Obama Popularity Sinks… in Iowa
Fewer than half of Iowans approve of President Barack Obama's performance in office a year after he carried the state in the 2008 election, according to The Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll.
Obama's overall job approval slipped to 49 percent from 53 percent in September. Iowans' approval is down 19 percentage points since an Iowa Poll in January, about the time he was inaugurated.
A majority of Iowans now say the Democrat's performance in key economic areas is inadequate, including health care, his top domestic priority.
Their satisfaction with Obama's conduct of wars abroad has dropped most sharply, as he weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, the war he promised during the campaign to make a priority.
Still, most support his handling of relations with other countries, another top campaign theme.
The new numbers - which track closely with the president's national approval ratings - are signs he faces daunting economic and international problems similar to presidents before him.
But they are also a warning to Obama that Iowans' expectations remain high and that his national mandate is waning, national pollsters said.
"Below 50 percent, it's difficult for him to say he has a majority of the country with him," said David Winston, a national Republican pollster and a longtime adviser to GOP leaders in Congress.
The Iowa Poll, conducted by Selzer&Co. of Des Moines from Nov. 8 to Nov. 11, is based on telephone interviews with 800 Iowans age 18 and older and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The poll includes responses from 539 likely voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
The overwhelming majority of Iowa Democrats, 82 percent, approve of the job Obama is doing. Yet their support has dropped 8 percentage points, and that has driven Obama's overall decline.
In September, 90 percent of Iowa Democrats said they approved of the president's performance.
Iowa independents, who fueled Obama's leadoff caucus victory and his general election victory here, grew more disapproving this fall. Approval stalled at fewer than half of independents, while disapproval grew to 46 percent.
Republican approval, which began the year above 40 percent, has fallen off dramatically and remains low at 16 percent.
Fifty-five percent of Iowans disapprove of how Obama is handling health care, up from not quite half in September.
Democrat Travis Bougher of Des Moines wants more action from Obama on the economy and on health care.
Bougher, who has been unemployed for a year now, said he would not be able to afford health insurance for his family were it not for the health insurance he can buy through the military as a member of the Iowa National Guard.
"So Obama's in there with all these grand promises, and I haven't seen anything," said Bougher, 41. "It's all been talk with nothing to show for it."
The majority of Iowans who disapprove of Obama's handling of the budget has grown this fall, as Congress has debated health care measures that some nonpartisan reports have said would add to the deficit.
Nearly two-thirds of likely voters in Iowa disapprove of Obama's budget management.
The $1.4 trillion federal deficit, nearly 10 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, is the highest budget shortfall relative to the size of the overall economy since 1945.
Of all partisan groups, Democrats' disapproval of Obama's job with the budget deficit has grown most, up 9 percentage points since September. Support from Republicans was already low and independents had ebbed earlier, in light of the $800 billion stimulus package in Congress and continued bailouts of the financial and automotive industries.
And in Iowa, Democrats are more fiscally conscious than their counterparts nationally, national Republican pollster Ed Goeas said.
The new poll suggests Iowans are somewhat more troubled about the budget than the nation as a whole. A smaller majority of Americans disapproved of Obama's handling of the deficit, according to an Associated Press national poll taken this month.
"The spending stuff has really added up in their mind to the point where they are starting to question whether there is enough money to pay for it all," said Goeas, who has recently conducted polling in Iowa.
Christopher Sutch, a Democrat-leaning independent from Ames, said he approves of Obama overall, but wishes he had not continued the deficit spending begun under his predecessor, George W. Bush.
"He and his advisers still continued the policies of the previous administration, such as the massive bailouts of banks and corporations," said Sutch, 39, a doctoral student at Iowa State University.
The drop in Democrats' support for the president's budget management is a concern, but not unexpected, given the weight of issues on his desk, Obama pollster Paul Harstad said.
"Evidence of clear erosion is minimal," he said. "But that his approval ratings are coming down to normal and more partisan is not surprising given the challenges he's facing."
Obama has lost the approval of a healthy percentage of Iowans in his handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as he has weighed the recommendation of his top commander there to send about 40,000 more troops.
Slipping from a majority in September, now only 38 percent approve his handling of the wars. A Washington Post/ABC News national poll taken last week showed 45 percent of Americans approved of how he is dealing with Afghanistan, also down sharply from earlier in the year.
His deliberations may be breeding anxiousness among Americans as U.S. troops continue facing casualties, said Harstad, Obama's pollster.
"That's mostly a reflection of the violence and recent increase in U.S. deaths," he said. "There may be a little bit of impatience that he's taking his time on a decision, an excruciating decision."
Obama carried Iowa last year by winning 54 percent of the vote, the largest percentage of any candidate in 20 years.
Today, 49 percent of likely voters disapprove of the job he is doing, slightly more than the 46 percent who approve.
The downward trend is not a grave concern to the president's political advisers, nor is it lost on them, said Steve Hildebrand, Obama's 2008 deputy campaign manager.
Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses was seen as the nominating campaign's watershed moment, and it has given Iowa a disproportionate influence on the White House. Its staff is populated with former caucus campaign staffers.
The state has tipped back and forth in the past three presidential elections, making its presidential approval trends somewhat of a national indicator, Hildebrand said.
"It's one of the tipping states. Iowa voters are going to watch things closer than other voters. I think there's always so much political overtones," said Hildebrand, who managed former Vice President Al Gore's Iowa caucus campaign. "Smarter operatives are paying closer attention to what's going on in Iowa."
Patrick Dillon, deputy White House political director, is a former top Iowa campaign aide and chief of staff. Dillon was in Iowa this weekend as Vice President Joe Biden headlined a state Democratic Party banquet.
Obama's national approval was 50 percent in Gallup's daily tracking poll as of Friday, down from 68 percent in January, his lowest since taking office. His disapproval was at 44 percent in the rolling three-day national poll.
Harstad said he expects Obama's approval to rebound some once he makes a decision on Afghanistan and if he signs a health care bill.
But if health care legislation drags deep into next year, such a bump may not last, said GOP pollster Goeas. "Obama's very quickly moving into the time frame where people are saying, 'We've given him a year. Why are things not getting any better?'"