Rasmussen first documented the rapid decline of Barack Obama’s approval numbers, and the rest of the pollsters soon followed suit.  Pew Research, one of the most respected of the national pollsters, corroborates what Rasmussen and others have said for over a month — that Obama has undermined confidence in his administration’s ability to lead, especially on the economy and the deficit.  His dustup with the Cambridge PD didn’t do anything to help, either:

Barack Obama’s approval ratings have suffered major declines. The president’s overall job approval number fell from 61% in mid-June to 54% currently. His approval ratings for handling the economy and the federal budget deficit have also fallen sharply, tumbling to 38% and 32%, respectively. Majorities now say they disapprove of the way the president is handling these two issues. The new poll also finds significant declines over the last few months in the percentage of Americans giving Obama high marks for dealing with health care, foreign policy and tax policy.

Three factors have likely contributed to more negative views of Obama. First, criticisms of the government’s economic policies are mounting. For the first time since Obama took office, as many say the government is on the wrong track (48%) as on the right track (46%) in handling the nation’s economic problems. In May, 53% said the government was on the right track on the economy, while 39% said it was on the wrong track.

Secondly, the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted July 22-26 among 1,506 adults reached on landlines and cell phones, finds that many of the health care proposals being debated in Congress are sparking negative reactions, especially from those following the debate most closely. By a 44% to 38% margin, more Americans generally oppose than favor the health care proposals now before Congress. Opposition rises to 56% among people who say they have heard a lot about legislation to overhaul the health care system. Concerns about the costs and increased government involvement in the health care system are volunteered most often by Americans critical of the health care proposals.

In May, the administration could still blame the Bush administration for the economy and joblessness.  The stimulus package had only begun to get spent, and Americans gave Obama the benefit of the doubt as joblessness continued to rise.  Two months later and six months into the administration, that patience has disappeared.  The excuses of “I inherited this economy” and especially “I inherited this deficit” have all but expired now, even though the national media never points out the fallacy of the latter — which is that Democrats controlled Congress and the budget for the previous two years.
That’s not the only issue weighing on Obama’s numbers, either.  His misstep on the arrest of Henry Gates by the Cambridge PD cost him significant support as it became clear that Obama should have waited for the facts before declaring that police acted “stupidly” and assigning the incident to latent racism:

Thirdly, Obama’s comments on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. appear to have played some role in his ratings decline. News about the arrest of the prominent African American Harvard professor at his Cambridge home was widely followed by the public and 79% are aware of Obama’s comments on the incident. Analysis of the poll data found that the president’s approval ratings fell among non-Hispanic whites over the course of the interviewing period as the focus of the Gates story shifted from details about the incident to Obama’s remarks about the incident1.  Interviews Wednesday and Thursday of last week found 53% of whites approving of Obama’s job performance. This slipped to 46% among whites interviewed Friday through Sunday as the Gates story played out across the nation.

The overall numbers on Obama’s handling of the incident show negative reaction, 41%-29%. However, his personal numbers remain high, with 74% of respondents saying they like Obama personally, apart from politics. Thus far, anyway, the declining confidence in his performance has not made him unlikable — which has potential for him to ride out his current difficulties, especially if the economy stops declining.

However, even with high personal numbers, those low ratings on the economy and health care will make it increasingly difficult for Obama to get his policies through Congress. They don’t have Obama’s likability, and they can’t afford to be seen passing significantly unpopular legislation and expect to remain in office after the midterms. That will be the dynamic that will play on ObamaCare and cap-and-trade during the recess, and which may help kill both in the fall.