By JIM KUHNHENN and STACY A. ANDERSON, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Mired in economic worry, Americans are growing gloomier about where the country is headed and how President Barack Obama is leading it. Opinions of the economy are at the lowest of the year as high gas prices, anemic hiring and financial turmoil abroad shake a nation's confidence.
Obama has hit new highs he'd like to avoid - in public disapproval over his handling of the economy in general and unemployment in particular - according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. In addition, more disapprove of his handling of health care and the federal budget deficit than in the past.
The poll shows that four out of five people now believe the economy is in poor shape. And, separately, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that some causes of the slowdown, including a depressed housing market, could persist into next year. Bernanke said the Fed believes growth will pick up going into 2012 but at a slower pace than expected.
How slow is a matter of high interest at the White House. A little more than 16 months before the November 2012 election, the public is split on whether the president deserves a second term.
For the first time this year in AP-GfK polling, respondents who say Obama deserves re-election have fallen below 50 percent into a virtual split of 48-47 in favor, a demanding challenge for him. Economic concern has quickly stripped away the gloss he briefly gained after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Obama's re-election team is no doubt concerned as well. The president has been traveling every week for months to campaign battleground states to promote job initiatives. He acknowledges the sluggishness of the recovery, illustrated by May's uptick in unemployment.
The price of gasoline at the pump has declined a bit recently though it is still nearly 90 cents higher on average than a year ago. White House officials are also monitoring the precarious fiscal situation in Greece where a default by the government could send damaging financial tremors across world markets.
Obama's overall approval rating fell to 52 percent in the new poll, in line with his ratings before the daring raid in Pakistan by U.S. commandos last month that killed bin Laden.
The erosion of approval is primarily among women. Last month, 57 percent said they felt he deserved re-election, a figure that dipped to 48 percent this month. The decline came almost entirely among white women, just 37 percent of whom say Obama deserves re-election in the new poll. He also lost support among self-described independents, from 62 percent approval last month to 43 percent now, his lowest since June 2010.
"I just think that he's not doing his job the way he should be," said Mary Perrine, a grandmother of three from West Lafayette, Ind., who said she has had to struggle to pay her bills.
Obama faced 59 percent disapproval on his handling of the economy and on unemployment. The steepest decrease was among respondents with incomes above $50,000. In May, 53 percent approved of his efforts to fight unemployment; in June 36 percent approved.
Still, the poll also showed the public to be conflicted about the president. And their perceptions about the national economy were often at odds with their own personal experiences.
More people - 56 percent of respondents - had a favorable impression of Obama himself than approved of his performance. Moreover, about three-quarters of the survey participants said it is unrealistic to expect noticeable results on the economy in one term.
And despite the overwhelming sentiment that the national economy is in poor shape, more than three of five of those polled rated the financial situation of their own households as good. While glum about the current state of the economy, one-third said they expect it to get better over the next year. Less than a third said it would get worse, and the remainder said it would remain the same.
In another consolation for the president, he rates far better than Congress with the public. Congressional job disapproval climbed to 76 percent in the poll, a new high.
"I kind of sit on the fence about it," Paul Fenger, a Cottonwood, Minn., farmer said about Obama's job performance.
"I think he is trying to do a good job, but the information isn't getting out, and Congress- the Republicans and Democrats- aren't working together."
Obama may have to count on the likes of John Holdnak, a Florida Department of Education administrator, who didn't vote for him in 2008 but believes "he has really stepped up to do this job."
Does Obama deserve re-election? "I don't know yet. A lot of things can happen now and between the election that could be his fault. At this particular juncture, he hasn't done anything in my mind not to be re-elected," said Holdnak, one of the survey participants.
The poll was conducted June 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.