White Americans without college degrees soured sharply on President Obama in the past month according to the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, helping to stall a rise in his popularity and bring him back to parity in hypothetical contests against Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

Overall, Obama’s approval rating shifted only slightly from 50-46 percent approve-disapprove in early February to 46-50 approve-disapprove in the new survey. But among non-college whites, Obama’s negative ratings spiked from 54 to 66 percent. Now with a 28 percent job rating in the group, Obama is at a record low here.

Non-college white voters were a trouble spot for Obama in 2008, just as they have been for all recent Democratic nominees. The group accounted for nearly four in 10 voters in the 2008 election, and Obama lost them by 18 percentage points to Sen. John McCain. According to exit polls, he lost by only four points among whites with college diplomas. Obama outperformed Sen. John Kerry’s 23-point loss to George W. Bush in 2004. Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to match Republicans in support among this group, as he did in both 1992 and 1996.

At the moment, Romney may be even stronger than McCain among non-college whites, holding a wide, 61 to 31 percent, margin over Obama after leading by just 10 points last month, 52 to 42 percent. And running only four points higher than Obama in January, Santorum also holds a nearly 30-point lead over Obama, 59 to 31 percent among whites without college degrees.

Fast rising gas prices have hit lower income groups harder than others, and nearly seven in 10 white Americans with less formal education report “serious hardship” for their households as a result. Among non-college whites who say they’ve felt financial strain, 74 percent disapprove of Obama . Obama draws far fewer negatives, 48 percent, among those who are unaffected by the spike in gas prices.

As Dan Balz and Jon Cohen note today, there’s a partisan lens to coloring pain at the pump and how much Obama is to blame for gas prices. Republicans and supporters of the tea party are more likely to report economic hardship. Nevertheless, the partisan divide is wider among Americans who earn college degrees or have annual incomes upwards of $50,000 than among lower income and education groups.

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