As tar balls wash up on the Gulf Coast, President Obama is finding they are turning up on the White House lawn as well. A majority of Americans — 52% — give him poor grades for his handling of the BP oil spill.
The IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership Index fell 5.4% in June to 49.5. That's the first time the reading has fallen below the neutral 50 level since Obama took office.
The public still views Obama more favorably overall than on specific issues.
"The share of Americans who rated him good or excellent overall is 41%," said Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducted the poll. "However his handling of the oil spill is approved by just 23%, a difference of 18 points."
Obama has stepped up efforts to show he is in charge of the spill response and doing all that can be done. In a mass e-mail Saturday, he listed federal resources being deployed, calling it "the largest response to an environmental disaster of this kind" in U.S. history.
But the administration's initial slow reaction and continued reliance on BP (BP) in the response have at times made it seem as helpless as an oil-drenched pelican.
Obama's leadership rating — one of the IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership index's three components — fell 8.2% over the last month.
The White House suspension of all offshore oil leases may not help. Though support for offshore drilling has softened, it still tops opposition, 49%-41%.
"People recognize that they don't want to be dependent on (oil) production from one source," said Karlyn Bowman, polling expert for the American Enterprise Institute. "We've seen support for offshore drilling drop in every poll, but in most polls it is still majority or plurality support."
High prices at the pump and renewed Mideast tensions have tempered the reaction vs. offshore drilling, Bowman says. Most people tend to view the Gulf spill as an "isolated incident."
However, 61% believe the spill will end up causing more damage than Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The poll found that 30% rated Obama's response as "unacceptable" and 22% rated it "poor." Just 6% rated it "excellent" and 17% "good." The rest gave him an average score.
Three-quarters of Republicans and one-third of Democrats disapprove of Obama on the issue. In an ominous sign for Democrats heading into midterm elections, just 18% of independents gave him favorable marks on the spill vs. 57% giving him failing grades.
Eighty percent of respondents said BP is to blame for the spill.
Despite Democrat claims that Bush-era policies created the conditions for the spill, nearly equal shares blamed the Bush administration, 24%, and Obama administration, 23%. Slightly more, 26%, blamed the environmental lobby.
Overall, the IBD/TIPP poll found voters in a sour mood, disapproving of Obama's handling of the economy, budget, health care and immigration. Only on terrorism did a plurality — 41%-32% — like the job the administration is doing.
The poll of 913 people was conducted June 1-6 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.3%.