Kimberly Cole was part of the coalition that voted in 2008 to make Barack Obama the 44th president and gave him another four years in 2012 to deliver on his promises of hope and change.
Now, the 36-year-old mother of three young children in Valencia, Calif., is among the majority of Americans who have lost confidence in Obama’s leadership and the job he is doing as president.
“He’s been faced with a lot of challenges, and he’s lost his way,” Cole said in an interview. She worries that Obama lacks the resolve needed at a time when things at home and abroad are looking scarier.
On the other side of the country, Karlene Richardson, 44, once counted herself a “very strong supporter” of the president. But now she feels much the same as Cole does.
“Honestly, I just feel that what I bought into is not what I’m getting,” said Richardson, an author and motivational speaker who teaches health-care administration at a community college in Queens. “I’m starting to wonder whether the world takes us seriously.”
Both Cole and Richardson were surveyed in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll and represent one of its most striking findings: the degree to which the president’s approval has slipped among key parts of the Obama coalition — the women, youth and Latino voters most responsible for putting him into office.
Women surveyed said they disapprove of Obama by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin — nearing an all-time low in the poll. It’s almost the reverse of the 55 percent to 44 percent breakdown for Obama among female voters in 2012, according to exit polls.
His approval rating among women has slipped four percentage points from a year ago and 16 points since his second inaugural in January 2013, when his approval was 60 percent among the group.
Among younger voting-age Americans, Obama’s approval rating stood at 43 percent. That marked an 11-point drop since June among those 18 to 29 years old. Voters younger than 30 supported Obama by 60 percent to 37 percent in 2012.
Meanwhile, support for Obama among Hispanics stood at 57 percent, which is down markedly from the first half of 2013, when approval among Latinos soared to about 75 percent.
Obama’s support remains solid among African Americans, with 87 percent approving of his job performance. That is a modest erosion from the 93 percent of black voters who supported his reelection.
Of all of those groups, women are traditionally most likely to be swing voters — and the two parties have fought fiercely for their loyalties, with the Democrats coming out ahead in recent election cycles. At slightly over half the electorate, they are not a monolith, of course. Single women tend to vote more solidly Democratic; married women, more Republican. There are also ethnic differences in their electoral behavior.
But there is fresh and growing evidence that many women’s faith in Obama has turned to misgivings — possibly making it more difficult for his party to retain their support in this year’s midterms and beyond.
Virginia Wilson, 60, of Charleston, W.Va., is another disillusioned Obama voter.
“I can’t blame it all on him,” she said, but added, “There was going to be a change, that we would see people coming together, instead of falling apart.”
Suburban women’s concerns, in particular, change from election to election, and over the years, pollsters and political strategists have come up with different labels to describe this crucial slice of the electorate.
In the 1990s, these middle-class women were known as “soccer moms,” and President Bill Clinton won reelection in part because of how well he related to their harried lives.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there were “security moms” — a term coined by then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). This group was seen as a major reason why, in 2002, George W. Bush became the first Republican president in a century to see his party pick up seats in a midterm election. But by 2006, as the country had soured on the Iraq war, they swung back to the Democrats.
About five years ago, with economic insecurity rising to the top of their concerns, the political shorthand for swing-voting women became “Wal-Mart Moms.” The retail giant began commissioning a pollster from each party to jointly conduct regular focus groups of women who shopped at its stores.
On Tuesday night, two of those focus groups met in Little Rock and Des Moines. Both represent states with tight Senate races that could help determine whether the chamber remains in Democratic hands.
Neil Newhouse, the GOP pollster, said that the groups are usually focused on “economic anxiety” but that the main concern has shifted to security issues in the wake of atrocities committed by the Islamic State terrorist group ascendant in Iraq and Syria.
“There was a sense that their personal safety and security was threatened,” Newhouse said, adding that the threat posed by the terrorist group “has these moms concerned, and these are women who don’t naturally gravitate to international issues.”
Margie Omero, Newhouse’s Democratic partner in conducting the focus groups, agreed, noting that the women had also cited crime in their communities and unrest after the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo.
“It was more pronounced than concerns about the economic downturn,” Omero said. “There was a lot more concern about crime and international unrest than we’ve seen in the past.”
The two pollsters wrote in a memo summarizing their findings from the focus groups: “Regardless of their 2012 vote, moms’ opinions of Obama have dulled. At best, some feel sorry for him.”
The beheading of two journalists by Islamic State terrorists does appear to have been a galvanizing event for many Americans. A newly released Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 94 percent had heard news of the murders — “a higher level of public attention than given to any of 22 news events” tested since 2009, the journal wrote.
In the Post-ABC poll, Obama’s handling of international affairs loomed as a significant problem with women. Just 37 percent said they approve of the job he is doing, which is his lowest rating on this issue among women in Post-ABC polls and nearly matches his 38 percent approval among men.
When called back for follow-up interviews, some of the women who responded to the Post-ABC poll said they, too, had been unsettled by the beheadings — and by Obama’s decision to play golf just minutes after giving a statement expressing his revulsion at the death of journalist James Foley.
Cole, the California woman, said it seemed to her that Obama was “very nonchalant. . . . The personal side of it, that he has feelings, is gone.”
And Richardson — interviewed before Obama gave a prime-time speech Wednesday laying out plans to target the Islamic State with airstrikes — said “he just made these promises that he doesn’t go through with” related to the terrorist group.
How much effect this will have on the midterm elections is unclear.
The two pollsters who conducted the Wal-Mart Moms focus groups wrote that it will be indirect with those voters: “While he may be a player in how moms perceive the dysfunction in Washington, they will not have President Obama directly in mind when casting their vote in November.”
Newhouse predicted that the shift in sentiment away from the president is likely to have more implications in 2016. He said voters are likely to be looking for someone they think has more foreign policy experience and a stronger leadership style.
But at the moment, some say they are just feeling burned and unsure whether they can put their trust in any candidate.
Wilson, the West Virginian, said her father was an immigrant from Yugoslavia, whose experiences there had impressed on her the importance of voting.
“It’s almost like I don’t care any more, and don’t want to support anybody,” she said. “And that’s really a shame.”
Scott Clement, Peyton Craighill and Alice Crites contributed to this report.