Obama and Romney Have the Same Weaknesses with White Folks

Mitt Romney and President Obama have the same personality weaknesses -- cool, uninterested in making new friends, impatient with small talk -- that can limit their effectiveness with lawmakers. They also have the same electoral weakness: blue-collar workers and college-educated whites.

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Mitt Romney and President Obama have the same personality weaknesses -- cool, uninterested in making new friends, impatient with small talk -- that can limit their effectiveness with lawmakers. But they also have the same electoral weaknesses: blue-collar workers and college-educated whites.

According to Politico's Alexander Burns, both candidates have struggled to win the votes of lower-income white people, Obama in the 2008 election and Romney in the Republican primary this year. And both did better among college-educated whites, who polls show are split evenly between the two men. Burns calls these two groups the "persuadables" -- the people the campaigns think they can actually win over with the right message. One thing that's striking about this analysis, however: downscale whites plus upscale whites -- doesn't that just add up to all whites?

Politico says the fight for these two white subgroups is "symmetrical warfare." Among poorer whites, Obama is weak because they never liked him much to begin with, and they've been hit harder by the economy, while Romney is weak because he's not very likable and says dumb things about being rich. As for wealthier whites, per Burns:

Strategists privy to internal polling on both sides of the 2012 race say that higher-end suburbanites — particularly white women — are perhaps the most closely divided persuadables. One Republican operative involved in 2012 strategy put it this way: “We are going after moderate, upscale people, who maybe for the first time voted for a Democrat for president [in 2008] and are rethinking that.” ...

A source familiar with the Obama campaign’s thinking described the population of persuadable voters in similar terms, pointing to middle-class, suburban women as the most winnable prize.

A new poll, The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny and Allison Kopicki report, shows how the candidates can make the economic case to those voters. While Obama is helped by the feeling that the economy is getting better, Romney is helped by the fact that some people don't think the improvement has helped them yet. The poll finds a majority of voters think wealthier people should pay higher taxes -- hence Obama's "Buffett Rule" -- but Romney does well with voters who think the country's going in the wrong direction.
And who thinks the country's going in the wrong direction? Not just white people. A poll from the right-leaning group Libre Initiative showed this month that a majority of Latinos think the country's on the wrong track, and 51 percent think it's harder to open a business now than it was four years ago, McClatchy's Marc Caputo reports. After so much Republican hand-wringing the last couple years over the party's need to reach out to Latinos, have Republicans already given up on them? On Tuesday, Politico's Mike Allen reported this number crunching from a Democratic strategist:

Assuming that Obama wins all the states that have been won by every Democrat for the last 20 years, including both Gore and Kerry (242 electoral votes) and Romney wins all the states that McCain won in 2008 (180 electoral votes), that leaves 10 states: CO, FL, IA, IN, NC, NH, NM, NV, OH, VA (116 electoral votes). With those ten states, there are 1,024 possible combinations (2^10 = 1,024). Out of these 1,024 scenarios, Obama wins 939 of them (91.7%) and Romney wins 85 of them (8.3%). All 85 scenarios require Mitt Romney to win Florida, a state in which Obama leads according to all the latest polls, including +7 points in the latest Quinnipiac poll and +3 points in the latest Rasmussen poll.

In one sense, those numbers are misleading -- not all of those scenarios are equally likely to happen. But it shows Romney has to win Florida, where, sure, upscale whites and downscale whites matter, but upscale Latinos and downscale Latinos do, too.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.