Obama and Independents: What Happened?

US President Barack Obama speaks on education reform at the National Urban League 100th Anniversary Convention at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, July 29, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) SAUL LOEB

President Obama's overall job approval rating was mixed in last month's CBS News Poll -- 44 percent approved, and 44 percent disapproved. And while other presidents have received similar ratings at this point in their presidencies, this president's approval rating has fallen 24 points since the high of 68 percent, reached in April 2009.

The president retains the support of nearly 4 in 5 Democrats, and about the same percentage of Republicans disapproves. Those figures have varied little since Barack Obama assumed office.

But his support among independents - those Americans who don't identify with either the Republican or Democratic party - has dropped significantly since last year.

In the CBS News Poll conducted in July, the president's job approval rating among this group was in net negative territory. Just 38 percent approved of the job he was doing as president, while more, 46 percent, disapproved.

CBS News Poll Database: Check Out Polls Dating Back to 1976

And that July poll didn't mark the first time that CBS News Polls found more independents disapproving than approving of how Mr. Obama was handling his job. In March, 46 percent disapproved and 33 percent approved, and in January, as Mr. Obama completed his first year in office, 47 percent disapproved, with just 40 percent approval.

This is quite a drop since the high of April 2009, when 65 percent of independents approved of how the President was doing his job.

This drop in approval might be due in part to some dissatisfaction with how the president is handling domestic issues.

Like Americans overall, independents are concerned about the economy, and just 35 percent rate the president positively for his handling of it. But unlike Republicans and Democrats, who take opposing views on government spending for job creation, independents are divided as to whether the government should spend money to create jobs, or focus instead on reducing the budget deficit.

 Federal Government Spending Priority Should Be:
All Dems Reps Inds
Spending to create jobs 46% 63% 25% 46%
Put focus on deficit reduction 47% 27% 72% 46%

Independents have also been critical of how Mr. Obama has handled the federal deficit. In a CBS News/New York Times Poll conducted in April 2010, just 23 percent said they approved of how he was handling that issue, and 57 percent disapproved. Among Americans overall, 29 percent approved.

And while the president's approval rating on handling health care was somewhat higher among independents in a May CBS News Poll (42 percent), on this issue as well even more disapproved (52 percent).

 INDEPENDENTS: Obama's Approval Ratings on Issues
Approve Disapprove
Economy (7/2010) 35% 56%
Budget deficit (4/2010) 23% 57%
Health care (5/2010) 42% 52%
Foreign policy (7/2010) 39% 48%
Afghanistan (7/2010) 42% 42%

But it may not be only his handling of the issues that is causing independents to feel unhappy with Mr. Obama. The poll data also suggests fewer independents see the president as representing their priorities or interests.

Since 2009 there has been a drop in the percentage of independents who think the president shares their priorities for the country, from a high of 57 percent in July 2009 to 44 percent a year later. More, 50 percent, now think he does not.

 INDEPENDENTS: Does Obama Share Your Priorities?
7/2010 5/2010 10/2009 7/2009 2/2009
Yes 44% 40% 54% 57% 54%
No 50% 48% 42% 33% 36%

And just 31 percent think he cares a lot about their needs and problems, down from 49 percent in April 2009.

How this dissatisfaction will translate at the polls in November - if at all - remains to be seen. But the president was elected with support from independent voters: according to the 2008 CBS News exit poll, Mr. Obama received 52 percent of the ballots cast by independents, compared to just 44 percent who voted for John McCain. He may need their support again in 2012.


Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. You can read more of her posts here.

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    Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys.

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