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A Rust Belt Revival for President Obama?

President Barack Obama talks about the economy during an event at Fire Station #5 in Arlington, Va., Friday, Feb. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

February 6, 2012

If President Obama wins re-election, he'll point to the last couple of weeks as a turning point.  He's sharpened his economic message, emphasized fairness for the middle class, and most importantly, he's benefited from an economy that's showing some signs of improvement.

But the most underplayed development are signs that the president's approval rating is ticking upwards with the group most resistant to him, non-college educated, working-class whites.  Over the last week, several surveys have suggested that Obama is gaining some ground with this group, in both national and statewide polling.  If these gains stick, it's something that should be very concerning to the Romney campaign, which is dependent on winning overwhelming support from blue-collar white voters as part of a winning GOP coalition.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent flags the most relevant cross-tab from the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, showing his job approval up to 43 percent among non-college-educated whites, with 54 percent disapproving.  That's a very encouraging number for Team Obama, one significantly higher than it's been in other surveys.  Democratic strategists view 40 percent as the Mendoza line for Obama among this group; he won that share of non-college whites in the 2008 presidential election. (For comparison's sake, Quinnipiac recently found Obama's number with non-college whites at 39 percent in Ohio and at 32 percent in Florida - both crucial battlegrounds.)


The recent numbers are a notable complement to Gallup's 2011 state-by-state survey, which showed Obama in deep trouble but in relatively decent shape in several important Rust Belt state.  Michigan was one of the few states where his net approval rating was above water, and Obama was performing relatively well in manufacturing-heavy states like Wisconsin and Iowa, too. 

Looking at two state polls in Michigan and Wisconsin also back up the argument that Obama is gaining ground in the Rust Belt, at least the more Democratic-leaning parts of it. An EPIC/MRI poll conducted last week shows Obama holding a comfortable 48 to 40 percent lead over Romney.  In November 2011, Romney led Obama in the same poll, 46 to 41 percent.  The poll results suggested Obama has made bigger gains in blue-collar Macomb County than in suburban, affluent Oakland County - which goes against the trends of the last decade in Michigan.

In a separate Marquette Law School Wisconsin poll  conducted last month showed Obama leading Romney in the battleground state, 48 to 40 percent, while holding a solid 50 percent job approval rating.  This, despite an electorate that also showed fairly solid approval ratings (in the poll) for conservative Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is currently the target of a partisan recall attempt. 


One other data point, not from the Rust Belt but another swing state filled with a large number of working-class whites: New Hampshire.  A brand new WMUR/Granite State poll, released last Friday, found Obama's approval rating in the state spiked to 51 percent, his highest number since July 2010.  The Granite State had been viewed as solidly GOP territory with Romney as the GOP nominee; his comfortable lead is now a 10-point deficit against Obama.


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