President Barack Obama starts 2010 with a 50 percent approval rating according to Gallup's newest polling data released Wednesday.

The number matches Obama's December approval average but is a significant drop from the 68 percent approval ratings with which he began his presidency last January.

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Though Obama's Gallup approval rating has fluctuated between 47 percent and 53 percent since November, his approval numbers have never dipped below his disapproval numbers. 44 percent of respondents in the latest poll -- Gallup's first to be conducted entirely in the new year -- disapproved of Obama's job performance. 

Democrats still strongly support Obama, giving him an 84 percent approval rating. Independents scored him at 47 percent and 14 percent Republicans only approved of his job performance.

The president's approval rating is the second lowest for elected commanders-in-chief since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Only President Ronald Reagan has a lower rating than Obama at 44 percent. Reagan's disapproval rating was also lower at 40 percent.

The poll comes as the Obama administration scrambled late last month and this week to handle the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit from Amsterdam.

Gallup's analysts wrote that the numbers do not bode well for Obama, who had much more robust approval numbers early in the first year of his administration.

"Today it is more of a warning light that this initially muscular administration remains on the threshold of losing majority support," they wrote. "At the same time, 50% is symbolically superior to 49%, and perhaps offers some encouragement to Obama's supporters that 2010 will bring some improvement in how Americans perceive the president."

They also suggested that the poll's role as a bellwether for Obama's reelection chances may not be ironclad.

"It may not have much significance relative to reelection at the beginning of year two, as the two presidents (other than Obama) with the lowest approval ratings at this stage of their White House careers were both re-elected, and one of those with the highest approval ratings (George H.W. Bush) was not," they wrote. 

The survey was taken between Jan. 2-4 and 3,032 adults nationally by phone with a margin of error of 2 percent.