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An analysis in the Wall Street Journal of a year’s worth of Quinnipiac University poll data by Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, showed that large numbers of whites, men and independents have deserted Mr. Obama since his election. His support among whites slid from 51 percent in July 2009 to 37 percent in July 2010, from 52 percent to 38 percent among independents, and from 54 percent to 39 percent among male voters overall.

Mr. Brown said the loss in support among these key groups is problematic for Mr. Obama, but not surprising given the drop in his overall approval ratings from 57 percent a year ago to their lowest levels now at 44 percent, according to Quinnipiac.

“A year ago if you had told me that his overall numbers were what they are, I would have suggested the places he’d lose support first would be independents, men and whites. This isn’t rocket science,” Mr. Brown said. “This is just what happens to a Democratic president when his numbers come down overall.”

Mr. Obama fares slightly better when voters are asked about his handling of the war in Afghanistan. Polls this month show support ranging from 43 percent to 50 percent. But when asked how they view the war effort itself, voters say it’s going poorly.

A CBS News poll earlier this month found just 31 percent said the war was going “very well” or “somewhat well,” while 41 percent said the war was going “somewhat badly” and another 21 percent said it was going “very badly.”

Asked about support for the war Tuesday, Mr. Gibbs said public opinion matters when forces are in harm’s way, but stressed that the right decisions are not always popular.

“You can’t just decide that if it’s too hard to do something because public opinion is against it,” he said. “Obviously, while important, I don’t think it’s the only determinative factor.”