In one of two important articles on the 2012 white vote (the other is John Ellis’ piece in Real Clear Politics), Nate Cohn in The New Republic does a lot of heavy lifting (with a great graphic below the fold) identifying the looming weakness in Obama’s focus on growing minority votes — he’s losing the white working class vote at historic low levels:
One demographic has plagued Obama since his primary duel with Hillary Clinton: white voters without a college degree. Over the last four years, Obama’s already tepid support among white voters without a college degree has collapsed. At the same time, the “newer” elements of the Democratic coalition—college educated and non-white voters—have continued to offer elevated levels of support to the president. The latest polls show this trend continuing, indicating an unprecedented education gap among white voters—a gap that could put Obama’s electoral chances in jeopardy.
Losing the white working class vote:
On average, Obama has lost nearly 6 percentage points among white voters without a college degree. Given that Obama had already lost millions of traditionally Democratic white working class voters in 2008, this degree of further deterioration is striking. In the three national polls conducted since April, Obama held just 34 percent of white voters without a college degree, compared to 40 percent in 2008. Thirty-four percent places Obama in the company of Walter Mondale, George McGovern, and the 2010 House Democrats. [NOTE: This is the place where Democrats demography arguments both support their contentions and have significant importance. It's not 1984 anymore and Republicans need to come to terms with that.]
In 2008, Obama lost white college graduates by four points and whites without a college degree by 19 points. If the national polls are correct, and Obama currently holds approximately 35 percent of the white non-college vote, then Romney has an opportunity to win white non-college voters by 30 points. If Romney does so, the education gap would increase from 15 points in 2008 to 26 points in 2012. For comparison, the vaunted gender gap was 14 points in 2008 and 13 points in the most recent Pew poll.
Changing the electoral landscape:
The emerging education gap could rejigger the electoral map, leaving Obama well positioned in states where Obama is less dependent on the support of white voters without a college degree—the educated and diverse mid-Atlantic and southwestern states—but giving Romney an advantage in states where Democrats need white non-college voters—the traditionally Democratic Midwestern states, where nearly half of Obama’s 2008 supporters were whites without a college degree.
Why the Left hangs so much significance on the Wisconsin exit polls (despite their seeming inaccuracy):
Wide variance in Obama’s dependence on white non-college voters points toward the possibility that Obama’s chances in Wisconsin could be in jeopardy, even as Obama’s narrower margins in Virginia and North Carolina appear intact. If Obama’s enduring strength among educated and non-white voters keeps Obama competitive in traditionally Republican states like Virginia and North Carolina, but Romney doesn’t get his end of the bargain in Democratic-but-white-working-class states like Wisconsin, the electoral map starts to look a lot better for Obama. On the other hand, Wisconsin’s demographics give the Romney campaign cause to at least initially contest the state, even if the current polling looks unfavorable.
Where this election will be decided:
Despite the president’s diminished standing among less educated white voters, Romney has not yet convinced disaffected voters to join his cause. Instead, many of these voters remain undecided, and Romney still trails McCain’s eventual tallies in many of these polls. In all but one of the 25 polls, less educated whites were more likely to be undecided than college educated whites. In the six national polls, 5 percent of college educated whites were undecided compared to 9 percent of whites without a college degree.
Romney’s road to victory starts with consolidating disaffected voters who do not approve of the President’s performance. Unsurprisingly then, the Obama campaign’s initial wave of advertising appears well-suited to disrupting those efforts. Depicting Romney as a plutocratic corporate raider seems likely to resonate with working class voters, especially since many traditionally have voted for Democratic presidential candidates. On the other hand, most of these voters harbor deep reservations about Obama’s performance and probably voted for Republicans in the 2010 midterms. Romney’s main goal in the coming months will be to convince them to join his cause.