A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll illustrates a racial polarization in the electorate that poses challenges for both candidates.
The poll showed Mitt Romney earning zero percent among blacks, compared to Obama’s 94 percent. And Romney trails among Hispanics by a margin of 63 to 28 to the president.
But Obama, who earned 43 percent of the white vote in 2008, is down to 40 percent now, according to the survey. And other polls have shown him hovering in the 38 percent range, a number that would make it very hard for him to win reelection.
These numbers explain both campaigns’ strategies. The Democrats’ intense focus on the controversial abortion comments of Rep. Todd Akin, the GOP’s candidate for the Senate seat in Missouri, could help them win white women, who favor Republicans slightly in most polls but are in some ways the swing voters of this election. The NBC poll showed Romney ahead by 19 points among white men, but only 8 among white women. (In 2010, when Republicans made huge gains, they won the white vote by 23 points, including white women by 19.)
Romney, on the other hand, has spent little time or money courting blacks or Hispanics after taking strongly anti-illegal immigration stands during the GOP primary.
These demographic gaps are not new. Blacks have long backed Democrats, and even Bill Clinton lost the white vote in his two reelection victories.
But in the Obama era, they have widened. In 2004, George W. Bush won 11 percent of the black vote and 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, numbers Romney is almost certain not to replicate in 2012. And Romney’s weakness among minorities is critical because they are a growing part of the electorate. About 24% of the people who voted in 2008 were not white, and that number is expected to grow this year.
Obama’s performance among white voters, while not great, is not that different from John Kerry’s when he was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. But there has been a shift there too. Even in his landslide 2008 victory, Obama did worse among white voters over age 65 than Kerry did four years earlier, making up for that gap with his very strong numbers among white voters ages 18-29.
What this data means is that Romney and Ryan are likely to pursue a path to victory that doesn’t involve the more diverse American electorate: white-working class voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the elderly in Florida, suburban white voters in North Carolina and Virginia.
Unlike in 2008, Obama is not going to invest much time on white evangelical voters, the strongest part of the GOP base. And the positions he has taken over the last year, requiring Catholic institutions to offer contraceptive coverage, declaring his support for gay marriage, creating a program for young Latinos to remain in the country even if their parents came to the U.S. illegally, are in line with trying to turn out his coalition of young voters, women and minorities.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr