A Very Weak President (A Continuing Series)

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 12, 2012

A lot of ink–real and digital–has been spilled over the story that Republicans are frustrated with the Romney campaign for not being able to take advantage of Barack Obama’s very real, very palpable electoral vulnerabilities. Those stories are certainly not off the mark, and any sense of frustration only increases when reading articles like this one:

The new Quinnipiac University and ABC/Washington Post national surveys out this week converge on one key conclusion: as the election nears, President Obama is sinking to historic lows among the group most consistently hostile to him.

Throughout his career on the national stage, Obama has struggled among white men without a college education. But in these latest surveys, he has fallen to a level of support among them lower than any Democratic nominee has attracted in any election since 1980, according to an upcoming National Journal analysis of exit polls from presidential elections.

Though pollsters at each organization caution that the margins of error are substantial when looking at subgroups such as this, each poll shows erosion within that margin of error for Obama with these working-class white men. The new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama attracting just 29 percent of non-college white men, down from 32 percent in their most recent national survey in April, according to figures provided by Douglas Schwartz, April Radocchio and Ralph Hansen of Quinnipiac. The ABC/Washington Post survey found Obama drawing just 28 percent of non-college white men, down from 34 percent in their May survey, according to figures provided by ABC Pollster Gary Langer. Romney drew 56 percent of the non-college white men in Quinnipiac and 65 percent in the ABC/Washington Post survey.

No one expects Obama to win these blue-collar men, who are now among the most reliably Republican segments of the electorate. But even so, these numbers, if sustained through Election Day, would represent a modern nadir for Democrats. Since 1980, the worst performance for any Democratic nominee among these working-class white men was the 31 percent Walter Mondale managed against Ronald Reagan in 1984; the meager 39 percent Obama drew in 2008 was actually the party’s best showing over that period. These new surveys show Obama that these non-college white men represent Obama’s largest source of decline in the white electorate since 2008.

Still, Obama is also facing weak numbers among working-class white women. The Quinnipiac Poll shows him drawing just 37 percent of white women without a college education, and the ABC/Post poll puts him at 40 percent with those women. In each poll that’s up five percentage points from his showing in the most recent national survey, a change within the margin of error. But even so, Obama’s performance in the new polls shows the continued Democratic struggles with those “waitress moms” that Bill Clinton and then Al Gore targeted successfully (Clinton won 48 percent of their vote in 1996 and Gore 45 percent in 2000). Obama appears on track to do no better, and possibly slightly worse, than the modest 41 percent he won with those women in 2008, which was itself essentially unchanged from John Kerry’s weak 40 percent showing in 2004.

Read the whole thing, which makes clear the fact that numbers like these “enormously complicate” the president’s re-election chances. This election is there for Mitt Romney to take it, if only he would do so. I might still be willing to give the president a slight edge in the fall campaign, but slight edge or no, if Team Romney loses this election, it will not have any mitigating excuses to fall back on.

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