Citing its latest survey, in which Mitt Romney leads President Obama 50-47, the Washington Post reports that “Poll shows widening racial gap in presidential contest.” But I like my headline better, because the widening of the racial gap is solely the result of white voters abandoning Obama.
Obama’s support among black voters is constant; he captured 95 percent of that vote in 2008 and, according to the Post’s survey, will do so again this year. But the sentiment of white voters has changed considerably. In 2008, Obama lost the white vote by 12 percentage points, according to exit polling. Now, according to the Post’s poll, he is losing white voters by 23 points, 60-37.
This shift of 11 points from 2008 would be more than sufficient to swing the overall popular vote to Romney, other things remaining equal. Indeed, as noted, Romney is winning the popular vote in the Post’s poll. Thus, says the Post, Obama “will need to achieve even larger margins of victory among women and minorities, two important parts of the Democratic base, in order to win reelection.”
But the female vote is fully accounted for in white and the non-white vote, so it provides no “out” for Obama. In any case, Obama’s edge among female voters appears to be diminishing, if not vanishing.
As for minorities, Obama is essentially maxed out with black voters at 95 percent. And the Post finds that the president’s support among minorities stands at 80 percent, which is where it was in 2008.
Nor can Obama count on the long-term trend towards a smaller total white vote. The Post’s poll suggests that the share of white voters this time will be similar to what it was in 2008, when whites made up a record-low 74 percent of all voters.
The Post informs us that “there is no way to tell from these findings what role, if any, racial prejudice may play on either side of the racial gap.” Actually, it’s pretty clear that racial prejudice has essentially nothing to do with the abandonment of Obama by white voters. Prejudiced voters wouldn’t have supported Obama in the first place. Moreover, considering the state of the economy and Obama’s performance in the first presidential debate, it is hardly surprising that he lacks broad support from any racial group, other than those that believe he places their interests as a group above the interests of other groups.
In fact, the Post’s statistics show that racial prejudice was never much, if any, of a problem for Obama. As the Post notes, his support among white voters in 2008 exceeded that of Al Gore, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, and Walter Mondale. This time around, his white support looks like it will be in Dukakis territory, but still in excess of Mondale’s share.
And keep in mind that Dukakis and Mondale ran unburdened by four years of failure in the Oval Office.