AP-GfK Poll: Obama faces trouble with key voters

Associated Press
President Barack Obama waves from the door of Air Force One at the Cape Cod Coast Guard Station in Bourne, Mass., after ending his vacation on Martha's Vineyard early, Friday, Aug. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)
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President Barack Obama waves from the door of Air Force One at the Cape Cod Coast Guard Station in Bourne, …

WASHINGTON (AP) — Whites and women are a re-election problem for President Barack Obama. Younger voters and liberals, too, but to a lesser extent.

All are important Democratic constituencies that helped him win the White House in 2008 and whose support he'll need to keep it next year.

An analysis of Associated Press-GfK polls, including the latest survey released last week, shows that Obama has lost ground among all those groups since he took office. The review points to his vulnerabilities and probable leading targets of his campaign as he seeks to assemble a coalition diverse enough to help him win re-election in tough economic times.

In his victory over Arizona Sen. John McCain, Obama cobbled together a base of support from across the political spectrum by wooing Democratic loyalists as well as independents and first-time voters.

This time, Obama's team is working to build voter outreach organizations and reconnect with supporters in hopes of expanding his pool of voters.

It's no easy task.

The nation's high unemployment is weighing on Obama, dragging down his marks for handling the economy. His overall standing has slid, too, after a difficult summer marked by contentious negotiations over the country's borrowing limit, a downgrade of the nation's credit rating and concerns about the U.S. falling into another economic recession.

The poll shows that 46 percent now approve of how he's doing his job, down from 52 percent in June.

Obama will have to win over people such as Brian Arnold, 33, of Pickerington, Ohio. He's an independent who voted for Obama in 2008 because he liked the Democrat's outsider image.

Now, Arnold says he's undecided and down on Obama. "He got elected, it was a big party and after that he went back to being a politician. As soon as he got in office, he just did more of the same."

The AP analysis looked at the viewpoints of all adults, not just those who plan to vote in 2012. In no way does it predict how Obama will fare with influential demographic groups next fall.

It does, however, indicate which groups will need extra attention in this campaign as he tries to persuade voters to stick with him for another four years.

Among the findings:

—White independent voters, who divided their support evenly between Obama and McCain in 2008, may be the president's biggest challenge now. Just 3 in 10 white independents say Obama deserves to be re-elected and only 41 percent say he understands the problems of people like them.

Obama didn't win the largest share of white voters in 2008, when they made up 74 percent of the electorate. Still, his inroads were enough to beat McCain.

Fifty-six percent of all whites approved of how he was doing his job in the first three months of his presidency. But that support has fallen, with only 36 percent now liking how he's doing his job, while 59 say Obama deserves to be voted out of office.

In 2008, Obama won the backing of most whites in the Northeast and was competitive in the Midwest and West, outperforming the previous two Democratic nominees. Now, majorities of whites in every region but the Northeast say he deserves to lose in 2012 and that he is not a strong leader.

The outlook is negative for Obama among white voters in the Midwest and West, regions where so many electoral votes are at stake.

More than 6 in 10 white voters who did not graduate say the president deserves to be voted from office, while 53 percent of white college graduates say as much.

—Women no longer are a bright spot for Obama.

At the 100-day mark of his presidency, they gave him significantly higher approval ratings than did men, 68 percent to 60 percent. That's since fallen dramatically.

In the latest AP-GfK survey, less than half of all women and less than half of all men approve of the job Obama is doing. Just 50 percent of women said Obama deserves re-election.

Still, women are more likely than men to see Obama as empathetic or a strong leader, and they give him sharply higher positive ratings on his handling of the economy. Forty-three percent of women approve, compared with 29 percent of men.

—Younger voters and liberals are showing doubts about him, too.

Obama won younger voters in 2008 by a bigger margin than Democrat Bill Clinton in his victories in 1992 and 1996. But younger Democrats are no more apt to say the president deserves re-election than are older Democrats. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats under age 45 say Obama is not a strong leader, compared with 11 percent in June.

While a majority of liberals continue to say they view Obama as a strong leader, the strength of those opinions dropped sharply this summer. The share of liberals who say "strong leader" describes Obama "very well" has fallen from 53 percent to 29 percent in the aftermath of the debt-ceiling debate.

"Sometimes he needs to put his foot down and not be the nice guy," said Democrat Kathleen Salak, 44, of Omaha, Neb.

The most recent AP-GfK poll was conducted Aug. 18-22 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellular telephone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

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Associated Press writer Stacy Anderson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.