Obama's Saviors? Counting on Midwestern Blue-Collar Whites

President Barack Obama waves during a campaign event on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.    (National Journal)

An array of new national and battleground state polling underscores the critical role that working-class white voters in the upper Midwest are playing as perhaps the last line of defense for President Obama in an election that continues to tilt slightly against him.

Several national surveys in recent days have found Obama falling below the critical 40 percent level of support among likely white voters that he'll roughly need to hit to amass a national majority, assuming he matches his 80 percent showing among all minorities from 2008.

If the NBC News/Wall Street Journal's polls from late September and October are merged together, the results show that Obama trails Republican Mitt Romney among white voters by 58 percent to 37 percent, according to figures provided to National Journal by Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who co-directs the survey with Democrat Peter Hart. Compared to 2008, the combined poll results show, Obama has lost ground among both white men and women, and those with and without college degrees.

Those combined results found Obama drawing just 34 percent of white men without a college degree (down from 39 percent in 2008) and a stunningly low 32 percent of college-educated white men (down sharply from 43 percent in 2008). He's slipped also among non-college white women, the so-called waitress moms, drawing 38 percent in the combined results, down from 41 percent in 2008.

Perhaps most ominously for the president, the NBC/WSJ survey joins recent Gallup and ABC News/Washington Post results in finding that he's lost ground even among his best group in the white electorate: women with at least a four-year college degree. In 2008, Obama won 52 percent of them; the merged NBC/WSJ data put him at 45 percent, close to the diminished Democratic number with those women in the 2010 midterm election.

But the most recent state level polls in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa -- the states that have emerged as perhaps Obama's "castle keep" in the struggle to collect 270 Electoral College votes -- show a different pattern, especially with non-college whites, but in some cases with college educated white women as well.

The Quinnipiac/CBS News Ohio poll released Monday put Obama at 37 percent among college white men, and 49 percent among college white women, in each case just slightly more than his national showing in the merged NBC/WSJ data. But in the Ohio survey, Obama ran far better than nationally among both working-class white men (drawing 41 percent) and blue-collar women (winning 49 percent). That, combined with his commanding minority support, was enough to provide Obama a 50 percent-45 percent lead in the survey.

The most recent Marist /NBC survey in Iowa also showed Obama leading and running substantially better there than nationally among non-college white men (at 46 percent) and women (55 percent). There, he's also boosted by a strong showing (55 percent) among college white women. In the latest NBC/Marist survey in Wisconsin, which likewise showed the president ahead, Obama is also running much better among working-class white women than nationally (winning 49 percent) and also benefiting from continued strength among college white women (who give him 60 percent) and college white men (46 percent).

Obama appears to be running better than nationally among blue-collar whites in the Midwest largely because of the popularity of the auto bailout, and the added resonance of his attacks on Romney as a corporate raider in a region scarred for decades by plant closings. He's also bombarded the battleground states with advertising condemning Romney's record on women's issues like access to contraception. The question for Democrats is whether those levees are high enough to withstand a national current that still seems to be slightly rising toward Romney.

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