As President Barack Obama's job approval ratings continue to flounder nationwide, he can still look to California for affirmation.
A new Field Poll found 53 percent of California voters approve of Obama's job performance while 41 percent disapprove, slightly better results than in December. That's nearly the opposite of the nation as a whole, where an average of major polls now finds a 53 percent disapproval and 43 percent approval -- not his all-time low, but nothing to brag about either.
"The demographics are probably the biggest reason," said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo: California has much higher proportions of Democrats and minority voters -- Obama's power bases -- than most of the rest of the nation.
And the state might be caught in a pro-Obama feedback loop, said Louis DeSipio, a UC Irvine professor and political expert.
"Not only is the state increasingly blue, the reinforcement we get is increasingly blue over time as well," DeSipio said, noting California's dominant political voices — such as popular Gov. Jerry Brown, and senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer -- speak kindly of Obama's work, unlike officials in other states who offer more critical perspectives. "There aren't a lot of dissenting voices here."
Obama carried the state by 24 points in 2008 and 23 points in 2012, and while his national numbers have been more volatile, a majority of California voters have approved of Obama's work in 16 of 18 Field Polls since he first took office in 2009.
The only two surveys in which Californians' approval of Obama dipped below 50 percent were both in late 2011, after that summer's negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling led to a downgrading of the nation's credit rating and a sharp drop in the stock market. The number rose from there, peaking in February 2013 soon after Obama's second-term inauguration, only to nosedive 10 points to 52 percent by that July amid revelations that the government is tracking Americans' phone and Internet use.
California voters are more divided when asked to assess Obama's handling of the economy: 48 percent now approve, while 47 percent disapprove. The president fares slightly better on foreign policy, with 49 percent approving and 44 percent disapproving.
"Most of the things he seems to be doing are in line with what I hope a president would do," said Jesse Cortez, 34, of Alameda, who told the poll he approves of Obama's job performance. "It's very different from the last president we had."
Cortez, a Latino Democrat who designs online classes for Academy of Art University, said there's no specific issue driving his approval of Obama's performance. Likewise, James Forsell -- a white Republican retiree from Los Altos Hills -- said there's no specific issue driving his deep disapproval of the president's work.
"He's taking down brick by brick what it took us more than 200 years to build," said Forsell, 73. "He holds this country responsible for all the ills of the world. He has no appreciation for the political system of this country."
The demographic divides are clear.
Among California Democrats, 80 percent approve of Obama's job performance and 15 percent disapprove; among Republicans, 80 disapprove and 16 percent approve. Nonpartisans and third-party voters fall in between, with 49 percent approving and 41 percent disapproving.
"In almost all states, the nonpartisans are reflective of the state as a whole," noted DeSipio: In a state like California where Democrats hold a clear edge, more independent voters will lean in that direction than toward the GOP.
As usual, Obama's highest ratings are among voters living in the heavily Democratic nine-county Bay Area and in Los Angeles County, while more voters in the South Coast and the Central Valley disapprove. And 84 percent of California's African-American voters and 66 percent of its Latino voters approve of Obama's job performance, while only 46 percent of white non-Latino voters approve and 49 percent disapprove.
Four of Obama's six immediate predecessors in the Oval Office also served two terms. Comparing their favorability in their sixth years, Obama fares much better among Californians than Richard Nixon (33 percent) and George W. Bush (32 percent) did, but not as well as former California Gov. Ronald Reagan (73 percent) and Bill Clinton (62 percent).
The Field Poll surveyed 1,000 California voters March 18 through April 5; the poll's margin of error is 3.2 percentage points. The questions about Obama's handling of the economy and foreign policy were asked only of 493 respondents, and have a 4.5-percentage-point margin of error.