Obama's Approval Slide Finds Whites Down to 39%

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Support has declined much more among whites than among nonwhites

PRINCETON, NJ -- Since the start of his presidency, U.S. President Barack Obama's approval rating has declined more among non-Hispanic whites than among nonwhites, and now, fewer than 4 in 10 whites approve of the job Obama is doing as president.

Barack Obama Job Approval Rating, by Racial Group

Obama last week fell below 50% approval in Gallup Daily tracking for the first time in his presidency, both in daily three-day rolling averages and in Gallup Daily tracking results aggregated weekly.

"The only subgroup showing a greater change than whites is Republicans, down 24 points since Obama's first full week in office."

In his first full week in office (Jan. 26-Feb. 1), an average of 66% of Americans approved of the job Obama was doing, including 61% of non-Hispanic whites and 80% of nonwhites. In the most recent week, spanning Nov. 16-22 interviewing, his approval rating averaged 49% overall, 39% among whites, and 73% among nonwhites. Thus, since the beginning of his presidency, his support has dropped 22 points among whites, compared with a 7-point loss among nonwhites.

Given the 17-point drop in his approval rating among all U.S. adults, it follows that Obama's support has declined among all major demographic and attitudinal subgroups, with one notable exception -- blacks.

Blacks' support for Obama has averaged 93% during his time in office, and has been at or above 90% nearly every week during his presidency. Thus, part of the reason Obama's support among nonwhites has not dropped as much as his support among other groups is because of his consistent support from blacks. (With Hispanics' approval rating down five points, greater declines among Asians, Native Americans, and those of mixed races account for his total seven-point drop among nonwhites.)

The accompanying table shows how Obama's approval rating has changed by subgroup from his first full week in office to the most recent week. The only subgroup showing a greater change than whites is Republicans, down 24 points during this time. Independents' approval of Obama has declined nearly as much (down 18 points), whereas support among Democrats is down only 6 points.

Obama's strongest support comes from blacks, Democrats, and liberals -- all of whom give him approval ratings above 80%. He maintains solid support of more than 60% from nonwhites, Hispanics, and young adults.

Barack Obama Job Approval Rating, by Demographic Group, First Full Week in Office vs. Week of Nov. 16-22

A Closer Look at Race and Party

One reason Obama may have maintained support among blacks is their overwhelming affiliation with the Democratic Party. This is not a sufficient explanation, though, because Obama's approval rating has dropped among Democrats even as it has held steady among blacks.

In fact, it appears as though Obama's relatively small loss in support among Democrats has come exclusively from white Democrats. In late January/early February, Obama averaged 87% approval among white Democrats and 90% approval among nonwhite Democrats. Now, his approval rating among white Democrats is 76%, down 11 points, but is essentially the same (if not a little higher) at 92% among nonwhite Democrats.

Barack Obama Job Approval Rating, Among Democrats, by Race

Bottom Line

Obama won the Democratic nomination and the presidency with strong support from blacks and other racial minorities. In fact, according to exit polls and Gallup's final pre-election estimates, he won the election despite losing by double digits to John McCain among white voters.

Those patterns of support seem to have persisted into his presidency, with his support among whites starting out lower and dropping faster than his support among nonwhites. And though he maintains widespread loyalty among Democrats, the small loss in support he has seen from his fellow partisans seems to be exclusively from white Democrats.

It is important to note that this pattern is not unique to Obama. For example, Bill Clinton averaged 55% job approval during his presidency, including 52% among whites but a much higher 76% among nonwhites and 82% among blacks.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 3,611 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 16-22, 2009, as part of Gallup Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error is ±2 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 2,879 non-Hispanic whites, the maximum margin of error is ±2 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 732 nonwhites, the maximum margin of error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones and cellular phones.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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