Pew Poll: Obama Struggling With White Voters
The latest Pew Research Center national poll released today underscores how slender a beachhead President Obama has established among whites more than two years into his presidency.
In his 2008 election, Obama ran well only among two groups of whites -- young people and white women with at least a four year college education, two groups that are generally receptive to government activism. In the 2010 GOP landslide, those groups stuck with Democrats relatively more loyally than the rest of the white electorate, but the party's support tumbled even among them.
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Figures provided to National Journal by Pew from the new survey
suggests that Obama has recaptured ground Democrats lost with
well-educated white women in 2010-but that he is still struggling with
every other segment of the white electorate, including younger voters.
These results underscore the basic dynamic looming over the 2012 presidential race. On the one hand, Obama will benefit from a wave of diversity that has increased the minority share of the population in every state since 2000, according to recently released results from the 2010 Census.
On the other, polls consistently suggest he may struggle to match the modest 43 percent support among whites that he drew in 2008, according to the Edison Research exit poll. In the 2010 mid-term election, according to the Edison exit poll, just 37 percent of whites backed Democrats in House races, while 60 percent supported Republicans-the highest share of the white vote Republicans have won in a House election in the history of modern polling. Obama's approval rating among all whites in the Pew survey stands at a similar 38 percent.
The poll, which surveyed 1,507 adults from March 30 to April 3, put Obama's overall approval rating at 47 percent with 45 percent disapproving. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Obama's best group in the white electorate remains well-educated women, who tend toward more liberal positions on social issues as well as greater receptivity to government activism. In the new poll, 56 percent of college-educated white women said they approved of Obama's performance. That's a slight improvement from the 52 percent of such women who voted for him in 2008, according to the Edison Research exit poll. It's also a big improvement from the 43 percent of college-plus white women who backed Democratic House candidates in 2010. (Well-educated white women provided substantially more support for Democrats in some key 2010 Senate races, including contests in Colorado, California and Wisconsin.)
The rest of the white electorate remains deeply cool to Obama, the Pew survey found. Just 38 percent of college-educated white men said they approve of the president. That's down from the 42 percent of the vote he won from those men in 2008, and only a slight improvement from the miniscule 35 percent House Democrats won with them in 2010.
Obama's approval rating in the Pew survey stood at just 34 percent among white women without a college education-the so-called waitress moms. Democrats have often had high hopes for capturing those economically-strained, culturally-conservative women, but the new result only underscores their consistent Republican tilt: Obama won just 41 percent of them in 2008, and House Democrats just 34 percent of them in 2010.
The toughest group for Obama remains white men without a college-education-the blue-collar workers who constituted the foundation of the Democratic electoral coalition from 1932 to 1968. Just 35 percent of them said they approve of his performance in the Pew poll. That's below even the 39 percent of them Obama carried in 2008, though slightly above the Democrats' microscopic 32 percent showing with them in 2010, according to the exit poll. All of these results suggest that the gap between Obama's support among college-educated white women and non-college white men-which stood at a formidable 13 percentage points in 2008-might easily widen even further in 2012.
Looking at the white electorate by age shows fewer fissures -- but one bright red flag for the president. In the Pew survey, Obama's approval rating among white seniors stands at just 38 percent; he draws just 35 percent approval from those aged 50-64 and 40 percent from those 30-49. Generally, that's slightly, but not markedly, below his support from those groups in 2008.
Perhaps the most ominous trend for Obama in the Pew survey is that just 41 percent of whites under 30 said they approved of his performance; in 2008, he won 54 percent of those younger whites. In the 2010 exit poll, Democrats' support among those whites sagged to 45 percent, but even that remained much higher than their backing among older whites.
Almost as troubling for Obama is his showing among Hispanics in the poll. Just 54 percent of Hispanics in the Pew survey said they approved of his performance, a finding that echoes the results in recent Gallup polls. Given Obama's persistent difficulties in the white community, he can't afford much softening among Hispanics, who gave him two-thirds of their votes last time and represent a steadily growing share of the population in key swing states from Nevada and Colorado to North Carolina and Virginia, and even Iowa and New Hampshire.
It's unclear, though, if any Republican will emerge from the GOP nominating process positioned to benefit from that cooling-or whether, as some conservative Hispanic activists fear, pressure from the conservative primary electorate will tug them toward such uncompromising positions on immigration that they alienate Latino voters otherwise open to a change.