The second central pillar of his coalition of the ascendant is minorities, where his support, as noted, is nearly matching its 80 percent level from 2008.
The third central piece of his coalition is college-educated whites, particularly women. In 2008, Obama won 47 percent of college-educated whites; the new poll shows him slipping only slightly to 45 percent among them. While Obama has lost ground among college-educated men (dropping to 39 percent in the new survey from 43 percent in 2008), he remains very strong with college-educated white women, drawing 50 percent of them (compared to his 52 percent in 2008). Over the past three decades, those women have been the fastest-growing part of the white electorate.
Compared with the May Heartland Monitor, Obama has seen big increases among those three key elements of his coalition: young people, minorities, and college-educated white women. But he also has stood his ground with the toughest group for him: blue-collar whites.
In the new survey, Romney leads Obama among non-college whites by 54 percent to 37 percent, almost exactly the same margin as McCain’s 18-percentage-point advantage over the president with those voters in 2008 (when they backed the Republican by 58 percent to 40 percent). The new poll shows Obama winning only 39 percent of non-college white men and 35 percent of non-college white women; but to overcome Obama’s other strengths, Romney will need to generate even larger margins with those voters. In fact, Obama’s performance with those working-class whites has slightly improved since the May survey.
By contrast, despite all the controversy over the plan to restructure Medicare promoted by Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, white seniors remain a very tough audience for the president: The poll shows Romney winning almost three-fifths of them, matching McCain’s strong showing in 2008.
The survey also shows why it may be difficult for Republicans to center the election on the famous Ronald Reagan question to voters that the party highlighted at its national convention last month: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
That question divides likely voters almost exactly in thirds: in the poll, 31 percent say they are better off than four years ago, while 34 percent say they are worse off and 34 percent say they are about the same. Romney, predictably, wins more than four-fifths of voters who say they are worse off; the president, equally unsurprisingly, attracts almost nine in 10 of those who consider themselves better off.
Crucially, though, Obama holds a commanding 57 percent to 34 percent advantage among those who say their finances are unchanged. One reason for that critical tilt in his direction: Voters who say their finances are unchanged also say, by a resounding 53 percent to 33 percent margin, that they believe the country has been better off over these past four years because Obama, rather than another candidate, won in 2008.
Overall, 48 percent say they believe the country is better off because Obama won in 2008, while 41 percent say the nation would be in a stronger position today if another candidate had won.
In a related finding, 47 percent of likely voters said they believed Obama’s economic policies helped “avoid an even worse economic crisis and are laying the foundation for our eventual economic recovery.” By contrast, 45 percent said that his agenda has “run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement and well within the survey’s margin of error — but it represents only the second time since the Heartland Monitor began asking that question in September 2009 that a plurality has attributed positive effects to Obama’s agenda.
Taken together, all of these small movements toward Obama have produced, at least for now, a tangible advantage for the president over Romney as the race hurtles toward its final weeks.