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By Christopher Cadelago
Even in deep blue California, disapproval of Democratic President Barack Obama is rising and voters are souring on the country's prospects, according to a new Field Poll.
Although 51 percent of California voters approve of the president's performance, 43 percent disapprove, an increase of 8 percentage points since July.
At the time, a larger share of voters reported having "no opinion." In a period marked by the federal government shutdown and the troubled launch of the new federal health care system, many of the undecideds appear to have shifted into the disapproval camp.
The survey also shows a dramatic worsening in voters' views on the direction of the country: 33 percent believe the U.S. is moving in the right direction, while 55 percent feel it is on the wrong track. In February, 48 percent felt the country was turning a corner and 44 percent said it was heading the wrong way.
The economy and foreign policy - matters of grave importance to the nation - typically tend to sway voters' views, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. The latest survey shows a large swing at a time of relative stability on economic and foreign policy issues.
"To me this is a much more deflating reflection of how people view the leadership of Obama," DiCamillo said. "At the beginning of the year, after his reelection, they felt great. They are not feeling that way anymore. They think the country is moving in the wrong direction even with their Democrat in the White House."
Democrat Ivan Hernandez, 30 of Bakersfield, said he generally approves of the president's performance but has his doubts about Obama's handling of the economy. An operations manager for a trucking company, Hernandez supported former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton over Obama in 2008. Four years later, Hernandez said he voted for former Republican Rep. Ron Paul after "neither of the big parties showed themselves a candidate worth voting for."
The intransigence of congressional Republicans is also to blame, Hernandez said.
"Is President Obama trying to do good? I believe he is," he said. "If he going in the right path, the right direction? I believe he is not."
Obama, who last week traveled to California to raise money for the party and deliver remarks on comprehensive immigration reform in San Francisco, maintains broader support here than he does from most other states.
But the poll shows he has taken a hit in two of three policy areas. While there has been little change over the last three years in voters' views on his handling of the economy, they now offer a more mixed assessment of Obama's handling of foreign policy.
On the federal health care overhaul, his signature legislative achievement, more voters now disapprove (50 percent) than approve (43 percent) of the way the president is dealing with the roll-out of the law. The federal launch, bogged down by website troubles, has been decidedly less smooth than in California, which is operating its own online portal and has seen steady enrollment.
Californians' opinions of the health care law have remained virtually unchanged since its enactment in 2010 through the last survey on the topic in August, DiCamillo noted, registering at 53 percent to 38 percent. That's largely reflective of the state's heavily Democratic tilt.
Christopher Werner, 31, of Tahoe City, said he is eager to begin receiving health insurance through Covered California, the state exchange. Werner, a restaurant server and political independent who gave Obama strong ratings, said he didn't have coverage in the past because it was too expensive.
He says he expects to pay a $44-a-month premium for a "silver" plan thanks to federal subsidies. What's more, he pointed to falling foreclosure rates and warming job prospects for his friends and neighbors as evidence of the economic rebound.
"My life seems to going pretty good," he said. "A lot of my friends seem to be working now. I lean more on the side of optimism rather than 'Things suck.'"
The poll also asked voters whether they view Obama favorably or unfavorably. Fifty five percent had favorable opinions, a figure that has changed little from earlier measures.
"When he came into office, the economy was really a mess," said Democrat Marcelina Luera, 62, of Livingston. "It takes a long time to produce, and I think he's done a job of trying to turn things around."
Luera said she continues to back the president on the health law even as she and her husband expect to pay about $80 more a month for health insurance.
"No matter what this president does, if they don't like him, they are going to find something to knock him about," she added.
The poll, however, showed that disapproval of his job performance rose across a wide swath of demographic groups, including some that have been staunch supporters: Latinos, women, households with ties to unions and voters who don't identify with a political party.
DiCamillo referred to the trend as unusual and potentially troubling for the president and his party.
"You don't usually decline a lot among your own base when your job ratings are going down," he said. "Usually, it's the red part of California that's just becoming more critical and you have this widening gap between the coast and other geographies."
What's occurring is "a little more serious for Obama," DiCamillo said, "and probably more worrisome for the Democratic Party in general."
Michael Brooks, an independent voter from Sacramento, said heightened partisanship and political infighting seem only to exacerbate the problems in Washington. The 29-year-old geologist said he doesn't expect a change any time soon.
"I think the problem is Congress as well," he said. "I just think he's one of the more divisive presidents we've had."
The poll of 766 registered voters was conducted from Nov. 15 to Dec. 1. The margin of error ranges from 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent depending on the question.
Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago