Analysis: Polls: Voters Dividing Along Familiar Lines, With One Surprise

Polls mostly show voters across the six battleground states this year dividing in consistent patterns largely familiar from 2008. (National Journal)

The three Quinnipiac University CBS/New York Times swing state polls released this morning, like the three released last week, capture the consistency of attitudes shaping the presidential race in battlegrounds across the country-while also recording movement among one key group of voters.

Even with one big surprise in the results-Mitt Romney's lead in Colorado, a state that in many ways embodies the modern Democratic electoral coalition-the polls mostly show voters across the six states this year dividing in consistent patterns largely familiar from 2008 (and indeed from elections since 1992). "By and large, the demographics trump the geographics," said veteran Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, who is advising Priorities USA Action, a Super PAC supporting Obama.

Consider a few of these common elements based on detailed results provided to National Journal by Douglas Schwartz and April Radocchio of Quinnipiac:

"¢All six states display the "class inversion": in each Obama is running better among whites with at least a four-year college degree than those without one.

"¢In all six states, Obama runs better among white women with at least a four year college degree than any other whites (either white men or women without a college degree, or white men with one.) Obama is capturing at least 54 percent of these women in all six Quinnipiac surveys. The surveys show him capturing nearly two-thirds of those upscale, usually socially liberal, women in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

"¢In all six states, Obama is winning at least two-thirds of minority voters, and in Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania he is capturing at least four-fifths of them.

"¢In all six states, conversely, Romney is capturing a majority of white voters without a college education.

"¢In every state except Florida, white men without a college degree are Romney's best group; he captures at least a 53 percent majority of them in each state. The polls show Romney winning at least 58 percent of those blue-collar men in Wisconsin, Ohio, Colorado and Virginia (where he tops out at a striking 68 percent.)

"¢That strength though is somewhat offset by what Garin calls "the demographic development of the summer": in every state except Florida, the polls show that a significant gender gap has opened among working-class whites, with Obama performing much better among white women without a college education than blue-collar white men.

The latest round of polls can't be precisely compared to earlier Quinnipiac results because the new surveys use a likely voter screen. But directionally, this pattern represents a big change from earlier this year when Quinnipiac's swing state polls generally showed a gender gap only among upscale whites, and Obama running almost as poorly among the working-class women as the men. "To me that's the most important development of the summer politically," Garin said. "For working class women, who really feel like every day is a struggle economically, they've just decided Romney is not going to look out for them at all."

The result is that a gender gap now exists both among college-educated and non-college whites. The latest round of polls show Obama running better among working-class white women than the comparable men by five percentage points in Pennsylvania, ten in Virginia, 11 in Colorado, 13 in Wisconsin, and 16 in Ohio. (In Florida, Obama runs about the same with both groups.) That approaches the size of the gender gap among upscale whites: in the six polls, Obama runs between nine and seventeen points better among college-educated white women than college-educated white men. (For that matter, in most of the six polls, Obama runs better among minority women than minority men.)

Obama's overall situation among the working-class women is still precarious. These so-called waitress moms still provide Romney big advantages in Colorado (an eleven percentage point lead), Florida (a 16 point lead), and Virginia (a 19 point edge.) But Obama leads among them in Pennsylvania (five points), Ohio (six) and Wisconsin (nine). And the surveys suggest Obama is gaining ground with these women in most states. Although the polls aren't exactly comparable, Quinnipiac surveys earlier this year showed Obama running at only about 40 percent among those hard-pressed women in Ohio and Pennsylvania and down near one-third in Florida. The new surveys show him winning just over half of them in Ohio and Pennsylvania and a little over two-fifths in Florida.

Upscale men, often more responsive to ideological arguments about government overreach, remain a tough audience for the president: Romney leads Obama by nearly carbon-copy margins of roughly three-to-two among college-educated white men in Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Virginia, the survey found. But Obama attracts 50 percent of them in Wisconsin and 57 percent in Pennsylvania.

These results generally not only show stability across the states but durability when compared to 2008. The new Quinnipiac surveys show Obama exactly matching his 2008 vote share among whites in Florida, finishing with one point of his 2008 white vote in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and two points in Ohio. Only in Wisconsin (where he's slipped five points among whites) and Colorado (where he's declined nine points) has the white vote significantly moved.