- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

For the first time since President Obama entered the Oval Office, a majority of voters disapprove of the president’s job performance in a Rasmussen tracking poll - a downturn that has the potential to sap the White House’s clout as it begins the heavy lifting required for health care reform.

Political strategists and pollsters said Mr. Obama is likely sacrificing his popularity by pursuing an ambitious agenda that engenders opposition.

“As the president attempts to rebuild the economy and improve the health and welfare of an entire nation, he must use his political capital,” said Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile. “I don’t believe the president can produce [that] kind of change without it taking a toll on his personal popularity.”

Mr. Obama is down in most polls but he dropped to the lowest level in the Rasmussen Reports telephone survey, which reflects voter attitudes before the president’s prime-time TV press conference Wednesday, when he labored to regain lost momentum for health care reform.

The survey showed 49 percent of likely voters approved of Mr. Obama’s job performance and 51 percent disapproved. It reflects a steady decline from a high job-approval rating of 60 percent immediately following his inauguration Jan. 20.

The president lost support among members of every political persuasion and nearly every demographic, though his job-approval rating from black voters rose from 90 percent shortly after his inauguration Jan. 20 to 98 percent Friday, according to Rasmussen polls. The poll has a margin of error of three percentage points.

The steepest decline in popularity - a 15 percentage point drop - the survey found was among independent voters, who were crucial to Mr. Obama’s election victory. They cooled from a 52 percent approval rating March 1 to 37 percent Friday.

Women, another key voting bloc for Mr. Obama, defected by double digits, slipping from 63 percent March 1 to 51 percent Friday.

Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said Mr. Obama is caught in a vicious circle in which an aggressive agenda pushes down job approval and low job approval threatens to undermine the agenda.

“He is naturally incurring more opposition than if he did nothing,” Mr. Newport said.

In a Gallup Poll released Friday, 56 percent of adults approved of Mr. Obama’s job performance while 39 percent disapproved. His approval rating was up from 55 percent Wednesday but the overall trend remained downward from a high of 69 percent following the inauguration.

Mr. Obama’s numbers are similar to those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who Gallup showed had a 56 percent job-approval rating in mid-July 2001. Most presidents watch their approval rating dip as they wade into their first term in office.

Still, the slide in popularity comes as Mr. Obama pushes for the health care system overhaul that tops his domestic agenda and weathers criticism over mounting federal debt and rising unemployment.

Just 25 percent of likely voters believe Mr. Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus has helped the economy, the Rasmussen survey showed.

The survey showed Mr. Obama’s disapproval rating at 80 percent among Republicans. But 83 percent of Democrats continued to approve of Mr. Obama’s performance.