WASHINGTON — More than half of Americans now disapprove of President Barack Obama's job performance, new polling found, as the Ground Zero mosque controversy appeared to further erode ratings that the nation's stagnant economy already had damaged.
Gallup's tracking poll for Saturday through Monday found Obama's disapproval rating at 51 percent, a new high, the organization said Tuesday. For the third day in a row, the president's average approval rating was 42 percent, also a low for Obama.
"It's certainly a reasonable hypothesis that the mosque comments are a cause of his lower approval ratings and his higher disapproval," said Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief.
This latest three-day tracking began the day after Obama delivered a speech in which he said a group of Muslims had the right to build a house of worship anywhere local laws allowed, and that the nation's commitment to religious freedom must remain "unshakeable."
The tracking poll doesn't ask respondents to explain the factors behind their ratings.
Presidents Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter all experienced job approval numbers as low or lower in the Augusts of their second years in office, Newport said, and such ratings are typical of tough economic times. The nation's unemployment rate has been stuck at 9.5 percent since June and is expected to worsen this fall.
The low numbers don't necessarily have much to do with how Obama will fare in his 2012 re-election campaign, but Newport said that based on historical results they probably would spell bad news for Democrats who faced re-election in November.
Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian and congressional expert, said the mosque controversy might resonate for "at least a couple more weeks" and that "Republicans watching these polls are going to continue to use the issue as the fall campaigns gear up."
For voters already frustrated with Obama, Zelizer said, the mosque issue "just plays into the broader storyline. . . . They say, 'Well, there's another example where he doesn't seem to be a firm leader. He doesn't seem to be on the right side.' "
In the end, Zelizer expects the economy to remain the driving factor for the president's ratings: "And I don't think he's hit rock bottom."
White House aides said Obama had known from the outset that his stance on the mosque wasn't going to win political points. Polling finds that two-thirds of Americans oppose building a Muslim house of worship two blocks from where Islamic radicals attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
On Tuesday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said that Friday's speech "wasn't something that the president viewed through a political lens. This is something that he saw as his obligation to address." Burton said Obama had no regrets about taking a stand.
Obama's approval rating was at 46 percent and his disapproval rating at 47 for Aug. 9-11. By Friday, Gallup found that his three-day approval rating had slipped to 43 percent and his disapproval rating had climbed to 48 percent.
The tracking poll is a rolling average of 1,500 Americans surveyed over a three-day period, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY