One year into the Obama presidency, voters in the nation’s biggest minority-majority state are looking at their first minority president with increasing disappointment. According to a new six-language survey released by The Field Poll, popularity for the president is hovering around 56 percent in California.
That’s still higher than in many other parts of the country. But last March, two out of three California voters approved of the president’s job performance, said Mark DiCamillo, senior vice president of The Field Poll. “If you look at the last six U.S. presidents, Obama’s ratings put him in the lower end. Only Jimmy Carter had a lower job performance rating at his one-year anniversary.”
That’s not the only bad news for the president. Asian-American voters in California who were surveyed for the first time in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean, also have the highest percentage among all ethnic groups who said they had no opinion on the president’s job performance. For example, 29 percent of Vietnamese Americans declined to grade the president, compared to only 7 percent of African Americans. “We saw the no-opinion responses more for questions related to politics and government officials,” said DiCamillo. Some of those ‘no-opinions’ might actually be voters disillusioned with the president but reluctant to say that to a pollster, pushing the president’s numbers down even more. “That’s my guess, but it’s only a guess,” said DiCamillo.
Of course, Obama still enjoys strong pockets of support. African Americans in California approve of his job performance at a whopping 89 percent, and 67 percent of Latinos and 62 percent of Chinese Americans approve of the president. Hugo Hernandez, a 34-year-old systems administrator in San Diego, said he is not surprised. Hernandez, who called himself non-partisan, voted for Obama. “I must confess, I was biased towards the minority-in-charge aspect,” said Hernandez. “I wanted to see if something could come from it.”
Unfortunately, California’s voters seem to think that not much has come from it. Last March, 61 percent of California voters approved of how Obama was handling the economy. That number has gone down dramatically, with only 44 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving.
Hernandez said he, too, is hurting. He said people come to the United States for the American Dream and are more likely to “find the American Debt” these days. His own home is worth less than what he owes on it. But he thinks it’s unfair to single out Obama for blame. “He inherited these problems, and I think he is doing the best he can,” said Hernandez. “He’s a new president and there are a bunch of crusty old people in Congress who don’t want things to change. We need to give him another year.”
But even Obama’s staunchest supporters are getting impatient. The Field Poll’s DiCamillo said Obama should be worried about where he is losing support. “The Republicans have always been critical of him. So he hasn’t lost much support there,” said DiCamillo. “The erosion we are seeing in recent months is coming from within his own party, and from the non-partisans.” Democrats still approve of Obama at 77 percent, which is high, but a year ago it was 87 percent.
Michael Durkin is one of those Democrats who had lost faith in the president. “I voted for him,” said the 53-year-old African American realtor in San Mateo. “He promised so many things, like transparency in government.” Durkin said all he sees is a president bailing out the big guys, like General Motors and AIG. “He is handing out money like it’s Monopoly money,” complained Durkin. “[Treasury secretary Timothy] Geitner just went to China and said the dollar would be strong, and they laughed at him.”
Watching a Democratic president lead a Democratic Senate and Congress and not deliver much change has been disillusioning for Durkin. “If the elections were held today, I would not vote for Obama again,” he said.
The bitter partisan wrangle over health care has not helped the president. While 48 percent approve of how he is handling the “war on terror,” 53 percent of Californian voters disapprove of how the president is handling health care. Physician Irene Tang is one of them. Tang, 54, is a registered Republican in Los Angeles. She voted for Obama because she thought “he was really going to turn the country around. And some of the sub groups in the Republican Party are quite scary.”
Now Tang watches the health care compromise with growing unease. She worries that private insurance companies have not been reined in. The consumer only has an illusion of choice. Premiums are going up. “I was hoping he would be more independent,” Tang said. “But I also don’t know that any other person could have done that much better.”
Tang said she is still hopeful, just cautiously so. “Let me just say I approve of him more than I disapprove of him. And I approve of him more than the previous president.”
As he embarks on his second year in office, Obama apparently still has that going for him - he is, after all, not George W. Bush.
The Field Poll survey interviewed 1,232 registered voters by telephone from January 4-17. It was conducted in English and five languages-Vietnamese, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese--for the first time in the organization’s more than five-decade history. The survey was done in partnership with New America Media, which provided supplemental funding through grants from the James Irvine Foundation, the PG&E Foundation, the Blue Shield of California Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation.