Why Obama Is Leading in the Polls

The president's ad barrage seems to have succeeded in bringing blue-collar women into his coalition -- and boosting his chance at reelection.

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Reuters

Across most of the presidential battleground states, particularly in the Midwest, President Obama's lead rests on a surprisingly strong performance among blue-collar white women who usually tilt toward the GOP.

A National Journal analysis of recent polling results across 11 states considered battlegrounds shows that in most of them, Obama is running considerably better than he is nationally among white women without a college education. Obama's gains with these so-called "waitress moms" are especially pronounced in Heartland battlegrounds like Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Combined with his continued support among other elements of his "coalition of the ascendant," including young people, minorities, and college-educated women, these advances among blue-collar women have been enough to propel Obama to the lead over Republican Mitt Romney in the most recent public surveys in all 11 states (albeit in some cases within the polls' margins of error).

Democrats say blue-collar women have been the principal, and most receptive, target for their extended ad barrage portraying Romney as a plutocrat who is blind, if not indifferent, to the struggles of average families.

"Advertising matters, and a lot of the advertising is aimed at that group," said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, who is advising the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA. "That's certainly been our No. 1 priority."

Garin earlier this year described the movement of blue-collar women in battleground states toward Obama as "the demographic development of the summer" and the Obama campaign has tracked the same shift. A Republican strategist familiar with the Romney campaign's thinking agreed that Obama's improving position among these economically-strained, often culturally-conservative women has keyed his rise in most battleground states. "The sheer weight of their advertising, and the shows they targeted that advertising on, it is [aimed at] lower-income, white, working women," said the GOP strategist. "They are being pounded with this stuff."

The powerful new Obama ad that airs the audio of Romney's hidden-camera "47 percent" remarks, for instance, features three different images of working-class women, each of whom are shown without men present. The spectral opening image, which might have been lifted from a Dorothea Lange photo from the Depression, shows a vulnerable-looking woman surrounded by two children on a barren dirt road. The strong implication is that without the government support Romney is denouncing in the voiceover the family might be bereft.

The Obama campaign has heavily targeted its ads on daytime shows that attract a large audience of downscale women, including programs like Judge Judy and Dr. Phil, and networks like Lifetime, Bravo and the Hallmark Channel. "It is just sheer tonnage and carpet bombing," said the GOP strategist.

The effect is measured in the dynamics evident in the swing states. At National Journal's request, the pollsters conducting the Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times, Marist Institute/NBC News/Wall Street Journal and CNN/ORC polls of battleground states analyzed their findings to show the results in each state among all minority voters, and then whites divided into four groups: men and women, with and without a college education.

In most respects, the state results track national patterns, suggesting that demography usually trumps geography in shaping voter preferences. The exception is the blue-collar white women.

As in the national surveys, Obama's best group in the battlegrounds is minority voters. For each battleground state in which pollsters were able to provide results among minority voters, Obama is winning at least two-thirds, except for New Hampshire, where the results among the small minority population is probably a polling anomaly. The recent surveys show Obama's strongest performance among minorities in Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, where African-Americans dominate the minority population. In national surveys, Obama's best group among whites is invariably college-educated, white women, who gave him a 52 percent majority in 2008, significantly better than his showing among the other three groups of white voters. Recent national polls show Obama again drawing between 50 percent of those women (last week's Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor) and 54 percent of them (September surveys by ABC/Washington Post and the Pew Research Center).

Presented by

Ronald Brownstein is Atlantic Media's editorial director for strategic partnerships. More

Ronald Brownstein, a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of presidential campaigns, is Atlantic Media's editorial director for strategic partnerships, in charge of long-term editorial strategy. He also writes a weekly column and regularly contributes other pieces for the National Journal, contributes to Quartz, and The Atlantic, and coordinates political coverage and activities across publications produced by Atlantic Media.

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