Romney’s real 47 percent problem

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In suggesting a large bloc of voters won’t back him simply because they don’t pay income taxes, Mitt Romney was wrong on the facts. A huge swath of the people who don’t pay federal income taxes live in the Deep South or are elderly, two voting blocs in which President Obama is unpopular and Romney will likely win in November.

But Romney is right that something like 47 percent of voters may never back him, no matter what he says or how bad the economy is. In nearly every poll, Obama is getting around 90 percent of the black vote, 70 percent of the Hispanic vote and 80 percent of the vote of minorities overall. Combine that with strong support among white Democrats, and the president has about 47 percent of the electorate captured. (Minorities are expected to be at least 25 percent of the voting population in November)

Related: The demographic divide of 2012

These voters seem very unlikely to defect from the president, as both blacks and Hispanics have rated him highly through his tenure despite extremely high and persistent unemployment among those groups. Obama is also unlikely to lose much support among college-educated women or voters under 30, two of his other core blocs.

Viewed in this context, Romney’s real challenge isn’t his gaffes and recent controversial comments on Libya or how people are dependent on the government. He has trailed Obama by about the same margin (three to six points) in NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls all year long, with the same demographic disadvantages throughout.

Unlike in 2004 or 2008, the polls are not swinging wildly back and forth (George W. Bush had a double-digit lead at one point in 2004, but won narrowly, John McCain led in 2008 in September but eventually lost in a landslide) with many undecided voters.

Instead the electorate seems divided into two distinct camps, and Obama’s may simply be bigger.

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