Gallup: Obama back to pre-midterm approval levels

Or, to put it another way, Barack Obama has returned to the same approval levels he’s had without the short-lived bump he got from the Osama bin Laden operation.  Gallup delivers the bad news in today’s survey results, showing Obama underwater (via Jim Geraghty):

President Barack Obama’s job approval rating averaged 46% in June, down from 50% in May but similar to his ratings from February through April.

The president’s approval rating rose in May after the May 1 announcement that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. It has since subsided about equally among all major demographic subgroups, reverting nearly to April’s level.

Obama’s strongest support continues to come from blacks (86%), adults aged 18 to 29 (54%), those living in the East (53%), and Hispanics (52%). This is in addition to 81% approval from fellow Democrats (as well as 75% from liberals and 55% from moderates, not shown here).

Absent two significant and brief spikes, the trend line on Obama’s approval has been nearly flat for more than a year.  The first spike occurred in January after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and the second was just a few weeks ago after OBL’s sudden adoption of room temperature courtesy of the Navy SEALs.  Otherwise, Obama’s approval ratings have remained in a narrow range of 44-47% since May 2010 — which is almost certainly related to the lack of change in economic conditions during that period.

The demographic results are mildly interesting but hardly a surprise.  Obama lost ground in almost all categories, but in most cases simply returned to the old trend lines.  In looking at the annual averages, most of the damage to Obama’s standing came in 2010, and probably most of it in the first half of the year.  While this suggests that Obama may be reaching a floor for his approval rating, it also suggests that he may be close to his new long-term ceiling as well.  It didn’t take long after such a singular event as the OBL mission for voter assessments to return to their year-long level.

What does this mean to Obama’s re-election effort?  The 44-47% range is not a slam-dunk re-elect number, but it’s also not a slam-dunk loss level, either.  The re-election campaign will have to focus on a big base turnout (not unlike the 2004 campaign for Bush, actually), which means that Obama needs to go more to his left over the next several months.  That’s why we’re seeing the red-meat political rhetoric about corporate jet owners and the usual class-warfare arguments, while Obama attempts to shift his optics to the center by talking about spending cuts and entitlement reform.  That’s a very difficult balance to maintain, and if the economy continues to stagnate, it probably won’t pay off.