Obama’s Electoral Problems Transcend Race
Barack Obama's difficulty luring white working class voters to his cause is well known. But he has plenty of other reasons to stay up at night.
May 30, 2008 - 12:51 am
The third problem for Obama is economic class. Working class voters have not embraced him, despite his new found affection for protectionism and his efforts to highlight his background as a “community organizer.” (Perhaps most working class voters have never been “organized” in their communities and have not a clue what that means.) In Ohio, voters making less than $50,000 selected Clinton by a margin of 56-42%. Obama lost that same segment of the electorate in Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia and even California (the latter by a margin of 59-35%).
For Democrats, these voters are key to victory. Kerry was able to win downscale voters convincingly (55-44%) as was Gore, albeit less dramatically in the $30,000-$50,000 income range. And again, these voters make up a significant bloc of the voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and the rest of the Rust Belt as well as potential swing states like Nevada and New Mexico.
And then there are Catholic voters. Once again, Obama has been unsuccessful to date in luring them. Pew polling analysis found that in Pennsylvania Clinton carried 72% of the Catholic vote, despite support for Obama from prominent Catholics like Bob Casey, Jr. But his problem is not limited to one state.
The Obama campaign has made a strong effort to deal with this lack of support among Catholics but has had only limited success so far. Could this problem persist in the general election if Obama is the Democratic nominee? It might, and, if so, it would pose a challenge for Obama in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. We should keep in mind, however, that many of the Democratic Catholics who did not vote for Obama in the primaries might well support him in the fall against John McCain. But on the other hand, not all white Catholics are Democrats — many are independents or Republicans. If nothing else, this means that white Catholics are a key group to watch.
So while it is true that the electorate in the Democratic primary polarized along racial lines it remains an open question whether that will persist in the general election and whether other groups — seniors, downscale voters and Catholics — pose equal or greater challenges for Obama.
Hispanic voters also remain a question mark. In a recent Gallup poll McCain drew 37% of the Hispanic vote, midway between George W. Bush’s share of this segment of the electorate in his successful runs against Kerry (44%) and Gore (35%). Despite conservatives’ misgivings about McCain’s stance on immigration, Pitney says that “it does seem to help him among Hispanic voters. In particular, it could help him hold key Western states in the GOP column: New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada.”
What is certain: the same coalition of ultra-liberals, African Americans, young voters and high income elites whom Obama has come to rely more heavily upon as the primaries wore on will not be sufficient to carry him to victory in November. There are, quite frankly, not enough of these voters in enough states for him to win without expanding his appeal.
Could he expand his base to encompass seniors, working class voters and Catholics and could he boost his share of Hispanics? Of course. Indeed, the general election will be determined largely by how effectively each of the candidates is in luring those voters into his fold.