Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama's approval rating among all Americans has dipped below 50 percent for the first time since March, but he remains extraordinarily popular among African-Americans, who also overwhelmingly approve of how the president has handled race relations, according to a new national poll.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday indicates that 47 percent of the public approves of the job Obama is doing in the White House, with half saying they disapprove of his performance in office.
According to the poll, more than nine out of ten black respondents give Obama a thumbs up on how he is handling his job. 57 percent of Hispanics questioned also approve, but only 37 percent of white respondents feel that way.
The survey's release comes as stories about racial tensions have dominated domestic news coverage the past two weeks. The poll was conducted July 16-21, after a well publicized dispute between the Tea Party movement and the NAACP, but mostly before the controversial firing of an African-American employee of the Agriculture Department because of alleged racism.
Overall, 12 percent of all Americans think that Obama's presidency has started a new era in race relations and another 39 percent say race relations have improved since Obama took office. A quarter of all Americans say there has been no change in race relations during that time and another 25 percent say that race relations have gotten worse.
"Most blacks continue to believe that Obama has led to an improvement in race relations, while most whites don't think so," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But the optimism about racial matters that first greeted Obama is gone."
The survey indicates that 59 percent of blacks think that race relations will always be a problem. That figure is back up to pre-Obama levels last measured in 2005, and is 14 points higher than last year. The number of whites who think race relations will always be a problem is also up - from 42 percent last year to 47 percent now.
"Blacks, Hispanics and whites agree that the Democratic party does a good job reaching out to minorities, and all groups also agree that the Republican party does not," adds Holland.
Thirty-nine percent of blacks say they are still thrilled by the fact that Obama is president. That's down from 53 percent who felt that way at the start of his presidency.
"But the drop-off started over a year ago and is not a reflection of recent events," points out Holland.
What about the year and a half old Tea Party movement?
According to the poll, a quarter of all Americans believe that almost all or most Tea Party supporters are prejudiced against minorities, and another 35 percent say that at least some are. The survey indicates that blacks are much more likely than whites to perceive racism in the tea party.
The poll's release also comes on the same day that Netroots Nation convention, a major annual conference of progressives, kicks off in Las Vegas. The convention occurs at a time when some in the progressive community are disappointed in the Obama Administration for not pushing harder for more of their agenda. According to the survey, 38 percent of respondents disapprove of the president's performance in office because he is too liberal, but nine percent say the give Obama the thumbs down because is not liberal enough.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted by telephone, with 1,018 adult Americans questioned. A special sample of 308 African-Americans and 303 Hispanics were interviewed for this poll. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.
–CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.