Barack Obama had enjoyed the longest Gallup winning streak of his presidency in 2011, buoyed in part by a lame-duck compromise on taxes and an impressive speech in Tucson.  His approval ratings showed growth or held steady for seven weeks, three longer than any other period since taking office in January 2009.  Now, however, with an incoherent response to unrest sweeping the Arab world and an abdication of leadership on the budget, his approval rating in Gallup polling have hit its lowest mark since mid-December:

President Barack Obama averaged 46% job approval the week of Feb. 28-March 6, his lowest weekly average since mid-December. Obama’s weekly approval rating had steadily improved from mid-December to late January, peaking at 50% during the final two weeks in January, before dropping below that mark in February.

Obama is now essentially back to where he was in the immediate post-election phase of 2010. The decline could be due to a number of issues the administration is dealing with, including the popular uprisings in the Middle East, the resulting higher gas prices, and disagreements with the Republicans in Congress about the best way to rein in federal spending.

Once again, Obama is losing support from independents and his own base:

Last week, an average of 79% of Democrats approved of Obama, down from 84% in late January. The president’s 43% approval rating among independents is down from 47% in late January, while his approval rating among Republicans is essentially the same (15% in late January and 14% now).

Andrew Malcolm gives a summary of the good news and the bad news:

There’s still plenty of time for a miraculous Obama recovery. An incumbent president’s reelection chances are usually tied closely to voters’ economic perceptions, centering on unemployment and gas prices. A separate Gallup survey finds Americans’ economic optimism dipping again in recent weeks, at the same time that gas prices began increasing significantly.

The good news for the Obama White House is that the 2010 approval averages show he remains wildly popular in the District of Columbia (84.4% approval) and in his home state of Hawaii (65.9%). That’s seven of the 270 electoral votes he needs to keep living in the White House with his mother-in-law.

The bad news is that last year Obama’s job approval went down in all 50 states.

A 46% approval rating isn’t exactly a number that guarantees re-election, but it’s not low enough to make it out of the question, either.  As Andrew points out, the next election will focus on the same economic and financial issues as the midterms.  Obama’s ability to win re-election depends on (a) the economy improving significantly, (b) demonstrating leadership on fiscal reform, and (c) the candidate the Republicans nominate to challenge him.  Obama can’t control (c), but he can control the other two factors.  And let’s face it — if the economy roars back to life under Obama and the jobless rate drops below 7% and Obama takes the lead on significant budgetary reform, he’ll win no matter who runs against him in 2012.

But that’s the rub.  Obama’s only real option to grow the economy is to reduce the regulatory burden on the private sector, especially in the energy sector, and Obama is determined to go in the opposite direction.  The White House could have triangulated on budgets after the midterms — after all, what says “changing the way Washington works” better than taking away the blank checks on which it operates? — but they have strangely ceded the field entirely.  Obama won’t directly engage himself, and sent Joe Biden in for a bungee meeting before sending the Veep to the other side of the world in the middle of the budget impasse.

If Obama continues at this pace, a 46% from Gallup will look like a standing ovation by the time Obama has to start campaigning for re-election, and it won’t matter who the Republicans nominate to challenge him.