The NBC News/Marist College poll shows just 35 percent of African Americans approve of how he's handled the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, where Garner was killed. Another 46 percent disapprove, while 19 percent are "unsure." His approval among blacks isn't much higher than his approval among whites (27 percent).
As we noted in last week's poll, this is a small sub-sample (about 110 people) in a much-larger poll, meaning there is a high margin of error. In addition, this question directly referenced the grand jury decisions (the WaPo-ABC poll did not) rather than the broader issues at hand, and that likely depressed support for Obama, given how unpopular the lack of indictments have been among blacks.
Obama's approval among blacks in the latest Gallup tracking poll last week, for example, remained a buoyant 82 percent. So it's not like African Americans are suddenly turning on Obama en masse — or really anything close to it.
But even so, this is a demographic that backed Obama 93-6 in the 2012 election and has rarely seen its overall approval of Obama dip below 80 percent. And it's pretty clear that there is significant unhappiness with his (lack of a) response. It's not a chorus yet, but it exists.
As my colleague Nia-Malika Henderson wrote Monday morning, this is somewhat unavoidable for Obama. As the nation's first black president, he shoulders increased expectations among both African Americans and whites when it comes to moving the country forward racially. In this case, though, he's been necessarily careful about everything he says, trying to avoid inflaming what is an already contentious situation.
Obama could have an opening, though. That's because, while the situation in Ferguson was hugely polarizing on both racial and partisan levels, there is an emerging consensus that the officer who put Garner in a chokehold should have been indicted, a consensus with which whites pretty strongly agree.
The big question for Obama in the hours and days ahead is whether he seizes on that building consensus to say something more significant about race. Even with the consensus on Garner, though, the still-roiling situation in Ferguson makes that a very difficult needle to thread. And you could make an argument that that moment Obama weighs in on Garner is the moment it becomes more polarized.
Keep an eye on Obama's public comments in the days ahead. This is a somewhat unprecedented bit of tension between Obama and his most loyal supporters.
Update 5:26 p.m.: A new Pew survey also shows declining black approval for Obama's handling of (the more general topic of) racial issues. While they approved of him 73-22 in August, that has slipped to 57-33.