Could Obama’s Struggles with White Voters Cost Him the Election?

Halimah Abdullah, CNN, October 26, 2012

The nation’s first black president could be in danger of becoming a “one-termer” if he can’t convince enough white voters that he deserves another four years in the Oval Office.

For weeks, he’s hovered around 40% of white voter support—a level that Democratic presidential candidates have struggled with in the recent past and one that analysts believe Barack Obama must maintain in order to win. At the same time, he has to encourage minority voters to go to the polls and capture 80% of their support.

“Obama in ‘08 became the first presidential candidate ever to lose whites by double digits and win. And he could lose them by even more this time and still win. But he can’t fall through the floor with them, and the polling shows him . . . right at the water line of 40 percent that he’ll need, maybe just below sometimes just above,” said Ron Brownstein, the National Journal editorial director and CNN senior political analyst.

“The big qualification: he’s running better among working class whites in the upper Midwest battlegrounds of Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio than anywhere else and that is his last line of defense in this very close election,” he said.

With 59% support among whites, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is hitting record numbers among that group. He is approaching a margin of support last seen by Republican Ronald Reagan in his 1984 re-election.

Yet, support for Romney among non-white voters has hovered between 18-20%, according to national Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll data.

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Republican nominee John McCain got roughly 55% of the white vote and 20% of the non-white vote.

“This is a long-term demographic problem,” John Avlon, a CNN contributor, said. “We don’t want to see our politics divided by race going into the future. That is not healthy or sustainable for a nation as large and diverse as we are and this election is shaping up along these fault lines.”

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The result is a deeply partisan and polarized election that could hinge—in part—on some uncomfortable racial math.

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Romney’s comments during a May fundraiser that “it would be helpful to be Latino” because were he “born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this,” went over poorly with some Latinos—a voting block the campaign is trying to make inroads with through Spanish language advertisements and dispatching bilingual surrogates.

During recent comments to the Des Moines Register editorial board, Obama said: “I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”

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But Democrats have struggled for the past decade to hold on to white voters during presidential elections, Brownstein said.

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry lost his presidential run after getting only 41% of that group. In the 2000 election, Vice President Al Gore lost with 42% of the white vote, 90% of the black vote and 35% of the Latino vote.

“Democrats have struggled for several decades to maintain any measurable level of support among whites, especially non-college whites,” Brownstein said.

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