WASHINGTON - Millennials have provided invaluable political support to President Obama over the course of his presidency, voting for him by a roughly 2-to-1 margin in his two successful campaigns against Mitt Romney and John McCain.
But as Obama tries to climb out of a 2-month-long malaise that saw his popularity sink with the fumbled rollout of the federal health care exchange, the president appears to have nearly as much work to do with young people as he does with older Americans.
Forty-five percent of 18- to 29-year-old Americans say they approve of the way Obama is handling his job; 46% disapprove of his job performance, according to a year-end USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll. The president's approval rating with young Americans - which stood at 67% just ahead of his second inauguration less than a year ago - now mirrors the general population, according to the poll.
The USA TODAY/Pew sample is of only 229 young Americans -- a subset of 2,001 adults polled from Dec. 3-8 -- and has a margin of error of +/- 8 percentage points.
But the findings mirror other recent polling that suggests Obama has seen his approval rating slide with young Americans.
--Forty-nine percent of adults age 18-34 disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president, and 45% approve, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last week.
--A Harvard Institute of Politics poll published earlier this month found that Obama's approval rating with 18- to 29-year-olds now stands at 41%, a dramatic 11-point drop from April. Fifty-four percent said they disapprove of the president's performance. That poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.1 percentage points.
--In a Quinnipiac University poll conducted from Dec. 3 to 9, 41% approve and 49% disapprove of his performance among the 18-to-29 age group.
In the USA TODAY/Pew poll, just 41% approve of his signature health care policy, while 54% disapprove. Overall, 40% of Americans approve and 55% disapprove of his health care policy, according to the poll.
The tough polling numbers with young Americans offer a snapshot of the road ahead for the Obama administration in repairing damage caused by the troubled rollout of Obamacare, which has even worn on some of the president's most ardent supporters.
The administration has dedicated much of the president's time and political capital toward making implementation of Obamacare a success after battling with early problems -- the glitch-riddled online exchange and the outrage that ensued when millions of Americans on the individual insurance market received cancellation notices because their policies didn't meet minimum benefit requirements set by the law.
Key to making the Affordable Care Act a success is enrolling plenty of young, healthy people whose participation will offset some higher risk and older uninsured Americans who are expected to flock to the exchanges.
Kyle Olberding, 23, an Army veteran who now works at a candy shop, said that he admires Obama for ending the war in Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan and credits the president for pursuing a diplomatic solution with Iran over its nuclear program.
But Olberding, of Wichita, Kan., said he is unhappy with the president's efforts on the economy, reducing the federal budget deficit and implementing the health care law. Olberding, who said he works full time but doesn't make much money, said he remains uncertain about whether he can afford health insurance and resents being required to purchase it.
"At this current point in my life, I have other things that need to be paid for and the extra cost is just not something I can afford right now," said Olberding, who said he hasn't yet explored the website or looked into the level of subsidy he might qualify for.
It's not the first time Obama has seen his approval rating plunge with Millennials, notes John Della Volpe, polling director at the Harvard Institute of Politics. Obama saw his approval rating drop with young Americans ahead of the 2010 midterm elections - in which Democrats lost control of the House - and again late in 2011 largely as a result of a then-stagnant economy. Each time he rebounded.
If Obama is going to have success rebounding again, it's essential he do a better job communicating with young Americans about the law, Della Volpe said.
Even among young poll respondents who say they approve of how Obama is handling his job, there has been a drop-off in the intensity of their backing of the president. Twenty-two percent said that they approve strongly of Obama's performance in the latest poll compared with 41% who said they approved strongly when they were surveyed in January.
"He has good intentions but the execution and communication of the health care law came through sloppily," said one poll respondent, Katrina Meyer, 29, of Indianapolis. "It was a little bit wearing."
Jonathan Scheidegger, 27, of Bethany, Okla., said he was optimistic when Obama was elected that he would get the economy on track and put a greater focus on the middle class than he felt George W. Bush did. While Scheidegger said Obama has done a better job than Bush, he said that the current president has failed to meet his expectations.
"There's just not a middle class anymore," said Scheidegger, a senior technical support specialist for a large company, who said he and his wife struggle to make ends meet despite both having good jobs. "I'd like to see that my hard work pays off. I'd like to see some things from the president and Congress where it's not just the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer."