President Obama continues to lose the support of independents, an ominous sign for Democrats heading into the midterm elections.
The IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership Index fell 1.2% in February to 50.2, just above the neutral 50. Independents are deserting him after heavy job losses and his health care push. They give him a rating of 40.8, off 18.9% over three months. A year ago, it was 72.3.
Obama enjoys strong support from his base. His leadership rating among Democrats is 82.4, down just 7.6 points from February 2009. GOP support for Obama is an anemic 21.5, about half where it was at the start of his term but up slightly from January.
IBD/TIPP's results roughly match other surveys. Real Clear Politics' poll average puts Obama's approval at 48%, with 47% disapproving.
That's not good for the president's party. The RCP average for the 2010 generic ballot put the Republicans up 45.2%-42.8%. Some political followers speculate that Democrats will lose Congress in November. While many experts figure sweeping GOP gains are unlikely, 74% of independents say one-party control has been bad.
Raghavan Mayur, who conducted the IBD/TIPP poll, said the shift of independents should worry the White House since they were a key part of Obama's coalition in 2008.
"They truly believed in his campaign message of hope and change, but Obama's performance has disappointed them," Mayur said.
Independents are increasingly anxious about the economy as well as soaring government spending and deficits. Obama may be tempted to keep playing to his solid liberal base, which in turn could further alienate moderates.
Karlyn Bowman, polling analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, notes that many independents are right of center. They voted for President Bush before souring on him. Now they're swinging back. "Given the growth in the size and scope of the federal government recently, they have become very disenchanted with Obama," she said.
Independents disapprove of him on the economy, 50%-25%, and health care, 57%-23%. The intensity gap is worse. Just 3% say he's doing a great job on the economy vs. 29% who say it's awful. Only 6% give him an A on health care vs. 41% who strongly disapprove.
Seventy-five percent of independents have a favorable view of the tea party movement.
Independents' split from Democrats can be seen in the past few elections. In November, the GOP won off-year gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia.
Then on Jan. 19, Republicans won the Massachusetts special Senate election to fill the seat of the late Ted Kennedy. Scott Brown won in part by making the race a referendum on ObamaCare. The defeat cost Senate Democrats their filibuster-proof majority.
Obama has responded by appealing to his base and independents with bank-bashing rhetoric to push for taxes and curbs on big financials. He's called for another stimulus. Many experts question if it will do much to spur hiring.