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The Next America - Politics 2012

Obama Faces Entrenched Resistance Among Some White Voters

Two more new national polls released Thursday point toward a presidential election that could divide the nation along racial lines at least as sharply as the 2008 campaign.

In 2008, Barack Obama became the first candidate ever to lose whites by double digits and win the White House (John McCain beat him among whites by 55 percent to 43 percent), on the strength of support from a cumulative 80 percent from all minority voters.

Several national surveys released earlier this week showed Obama displaying patterns of support reminiscent of 2008, but facing the likelihood of erosion among whites-and the possibility of an even wider racial chasm. 


The first University of Phoenix/National Journal Next America Poll and the latest Quinnipiac University national survey, both released Thursday, closely track the picture of those earlier surveys. Obama leads 50 percent to 42 percent in the Next America Poll (which was conducted from April 5-11, before other surveys that have shown a closer race) and 46 percent to 42 percent in the Quinnipiac survey. But when the white electorate is viewed through the lens of gender and education, each poll shows him facing strong headwinds among all but one group.

Among white men without a college education, the Quinnipiac survey found Obama attracting just 33 percent, almost identical to the 32 percent in the Next America poll. That's similar to the results released in other recent national surveys and a significant decline from the already meager 39 percent of those men Obama won in 2008. (Since 1988, the worst showing for Democrats among those men was Al Gore's 34 percent in 2000.)

Among white men with a college education, the two surveys report similar results as well: Obama wins 41 percent of them in the Next America poll and 39 percent in the Quinnipiac survey. In each case, that's within the range of the other recent national surveys, and down only slightly from his 42 percent showing with those well-educated men last time.

The new polls diverge more on the sentiment among the so-called waitress moms, white women without a college education. Obama won 41 percent of them last time and attracted exactly the same level of support with them in the Next America poll; Quinnipiac shows him falling to just 32 percent with those women, a lower level than any of the other recent surveys (which showed him drawing between 37 percent and 46 percent of their votes). That is well below the Democrats' weakest showing among those women since 1988, Bill Clinton's 39 percent in the three-way race of 1992.

In both of the new surveys, Obama retains majority support among white women with a college education-the sole quadrant of the white population that provided him a majority in 2008. Last time, Obama won 52 percent of those women. Quinnipiac puts him exactly at that level again, and Next America shows him drawing 55 percent of them. Each of the other recent national polls except the first Gallup tracking poll has found Obama capturing a majority of those women.

The Next America and Quinnipiac surveys produce similar results on all non-white voters as well; Next America shows him winning 76 percent of them, and Quinnipiac puts the number at 77 percent. That's also very close to the findings in the other national surveys examined by National Journal and when are undecided are considered puts Obama on track to matching (within a few points either way) his 2008 showing with minorities. Like some other recent state and national surveys, the Quinnipiac poll finds a big gender gap among minorities, with Obama capturing over four-in-five minority women, but only just over two-thirds of minority men.

Notwithstanding these modest fluctuations, the two new surveys reinforce the message of the four other national polls National Journal examined earlier this week. All of them show Obama largely holding two pillars of the modern Democratic coalition-minority voters and college-educated white women. But all show him facing significant erosion among blue-collar white men, and in most surveys he's also confronting at least some loss among college-plus white men and non-college white women. It will be difficult for Obama to ever establish a comfortable advantage while he faces such entrenched resistance from so much of the white electorate. The mirror image challenge for Romney is that if Obama holds support from minorities and well-educated white women equal to (or even above) his 2008 levels, Romney must win almost two-thirds of all other whites to fashion an overall national majority.

It's worth remembering that when Republicans increased their showing among whites to a record 60 percent in the 2010 House elections, they advanced not only with the portions of the white electorate historically most disposed toward them, but also  drove down the Democratic support among college white women to 43 percent, according to exit polls. For that matter, in that election they also reduced the Democratic share of the non-white vote to 73 percent. If Romney can't make at least some gains among those two blocs in 2012, his math grows much more daunting. 

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