By Troy Wolverton
Even as his stock fell in much of the country, President Barack Obama could always look to ultrablue California for strong support.
Not any more.
Obama's approval rating in the Golden State is now at 45 percent, the lowest rating recorded by the Field Poll during his presidency, according to a survey released Tuesday. Forty-three percent of poll respondents say they disapprove of the job the president is doing.
Martinez resident Paul Karsh isn't surprised.
When Obama ran for president in 2008, he impressed Karsh with his intelligence and political talent, giving him hope for the future.
Karsh isn't so hopeful now. The 63-year-old liberal Democrat has soured on Obama. From foreign policy to trade policy to how he's dealt with climate change, Karsh said, Obama has been a disappointment because he's failed to develop coherent policies and has repeatedly caved in to right-wing critics.
"In many ways, he hasn't lived up to his potential," said Karsh, a software quality assurance engineer who has been out of work for 10 of the past 13 months. "He's followed a conventional and rather conservative path."
The decline in the president's approval rating is largely due to a sharp dropoff in support from Democrats. In the latest Field survey, which polled 1,280 registered voters from Aug. 14 to Aug. 28, 68 percent of Democrats said they approved of the way Obama was handling his job. That was down from 76 percent as recently as June.
The poll question had an margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
"I think there's just a growing impatience with Obama among many who had been his strongest supporters," said Mark DiCamillo, the Field Poll's director.
Obama's approval rating in California stood at 50 percent in June and 62 percent in February 2013. His previous low in the state was 46 percent, back in September 2011 when the state's unemployment rate was nearly 12 percent.
Even some of those who say they approve of the job Obama is doing express more ambivalence than the poll indicates.
Robert McCarty, for example, said he generally approves of Obama's job performance.
A marketing manager who describes himself as a socially conservative but economically liberal Democrat, the San Jose resident faults the president for not offering "more effective leadership" on issues such as banking regulation and immigration reform. Despite his approval of the president, he also told the Field Poll that he thought the country was headed in the wrong direction, a sentiment shared by 51 percent of those surveyed; 36 percent of Californians think the country is on the right track, according to the poll.
When he was elected in 2008, Obama had proclaimed that the country wasn't "as divided as our politics seem to make us out to be," said McCarty, 46.
But, McCarty added, the partisanship has only "worsened in the last six years. It seems to be hardening in a fractious way. That worries me."
Similarly, Monica Guillory, who describes herself as a "hard-core Democrat," said she was really proud when Obama was elected and felt he got a lot done in his first term. Although she still generally approves of the president's performance, she's been disappointed with some of the legislation he's signed and is unhappy that he hasn't yet followed through with his promise to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
"Over time every apple loses it's shine," said Guillory, 53, of Hayward. "He doesn't hold the same promise in the second term as in the first term."
Obama has also seen his approval decline among those who identify as "middle of the road." Forty-five percent told the Field Poll they approve of the job the president is doing, down from 54 percent in June.
Marlana Kirkham, who disapproves of Obama's performance, said she was happy to see an African-American voted into office as president. But over time, her enthusiasm dropped off.
With two sons in the military, the 66-year-old San Jose resident is attuned to how the military and veterans are treated.
Kirkham, an independent voter, worries about the job opportunities for veterans who are being forced out of the military because of cutbacks. And she was unhappy with the recent scandal over long waiting times for veterans seeking medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I'm not really happy with the way he's handling it," said Kirkham, who is retired.
Among at least one group of Californians, Obama's rating has changed little: 11 percent of Republican voters approved of his job performance in the latest Field Poll. That was essentially the same as his rating in June, when 13 percent of Republicans gave him a thumbs up.
William Hitt, a 71-year-old Republican from Antioch, faulted Obama for trying to enact policies without the input of Republicans, for not being transparent in his decision-making and for failing to focus on the most important issues.
Hitt, a retired tax preparer and former firefighter, criticized the president for his handling of the crisis in Syria, for his immigration policies and for his signature health care law.
"This guy is a joke to me," Hitt said.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.