President Obama's standing in public opinion surveys, which had gained ground during the spring, has declined again, driven down in part by his handling of Iraq, a series of new polls indicates.
In April, polls showed Obama's public standing improving from a low point around the start of the year. Those gains have now been reversed.
Even though the president cannot run for another term in office, his standing in polls matters because of the effect it may have on Democrats running for office in November. The level of public approval for the incumbent president historically has served as a good predictor of how his party fares in midterm elections.
If that holds true, Democrats once again have more reason to worry. The percentage of Americans who approve of Obama's performance, which had ticked upward in Gallup surveys in April and May, dropped this month, just after news reports began highlighting the dramatic gains of Sunni Muslim militants in Iraq as they seized control of Mosul, the country's second-largest city.
Other polls tell a similar story. A New York Times/CBS poll released Monday night found that a majority of Americans disapproved of Obama's job performance, with 54% giving a negative grade and 40% positive. The numbers were particularly grim on handling of foreign policy, with 58% of Americans disapproving of Obama's work, up from 48% in mid-May.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday echoed that, finding 52% of Americans disapproved of Obama's handling of events in Iraq.
Both polls found that Americans by and large sided with Obama on several specific issues involving Iraq. A broad swath of the public agreed, for example, that the U.S. should not become involved again in ground combat, but more were willing to consider possible airstrikes. The New York Times/CBS poll found that a majority supported Obama's decision to send a small number of military advisors to Iraq.
The combination of overall disapproval with support on individual issues implies that a big part of the problem Obama faces involves perceptions of his leadership, rather than his specific policies. Other recent surveys showing public doubts about Obama's ability to lead the country reinforce that view.
One relative bright spot for Obama is that he has largely maintained support in his party. So long as that continues, Obama will have a floor below which his support won't drop.
That continued support from Democrats shows up, for example, in a Field Poll released Tuesday. In heavily Democratic California, approval of Obama has barely budged in the last year, the poll showed. Approval in the state stands at 50%, compared with 39% who disapprove.