But now, Obama has a deficit of 23 percentage points, trailing Republican Mitt Romney 60 percent to 37 percent among whites, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll. That presents a significant hurdle for the president — and suggests that he will need to achieve even larger margins of victory among women and minorities, two important parts of the Democratic base, to win reelection.
Overall, Romney has edged ahead in the contest, garnering 50 percent of likely voters for the first time in the campaign, according to the Post-ABC poll. As Romney hits 50 percent, the president stands at 47 percent, his lowest tally since before the national party conventions.
The three-point edge gives Romney his first apparent — but not statistically significant — advantage in the national popular vote. The challenger has a clear nine-point lead when it comes to whom voters trust to handle the economy, which has long been the central issue of the contest. He has also effectively neutralized what has been a consistent fallback for Obama: economic empathy.
Romney’s momentum in these areas comes from improvements against the president among white voters.
The slippage among whites is something of a setback for Obama, who campaigned on bridging the racial divide in his election and has sought to minimize rifts that have arisen in his presidency. Although Democrats typically win minorities and fare worse among white voters than their Republican rivals, Obama outpaced previous losing Democratic candidates with both groups.
Less than two weeks before the election, the evidence suggests that a much more sharply divided country will head to the polls.
As he did in 2008, Obama gets overwhelming support from nonwhites, who made up a record high proportion of the overall electorate four years ago.
In that contest, 80 percent of all nonwhites supported Obama, including 95 percent of black voters, according to the exit poll. In the Post-ABC tracking poll released Thursday, Obama again draws support from 80 percent of nonwhites, and backing for his reelection is nearly universal among African Americans. In other words, Romney appears to have made no inroads in chipping away at Obama’s support among Hispanics and African Americans.
Dismal support for Republicans among minorities is a long-term problem for the GOP in a rapidly diversifying nation. Fully 91 percent of Romney’s support comes from white voters.
At the same time, Democrats cannot count on the share of the white vote continuing to drop as it has in recent years. The share of white voters in the Post-ABC polling is similar to what it was in 2008, when whites made up a record-low 74 percent of all voters.