Romney’s advantage here comes even as 48 percent of white voters in the tracking data released Monday said Romney, as president, would do more to favor the wealthy; 37 percent said he would do more for the middle class. Most whites, with and without college educations, saw Obama as doing more to favor those in the middle, not the wealthy.
There is no way to tell from these findings what role, if any, racial prejudice may play on either side of the racial gap. But the data suggest that concern about the economy is amplifying the division, as Obama’s decline in support among white voters appears to be closely linked to views of his handling of the economy. And yet minorities have suffered severe unemployment and housing foreclosures in the current economy as well.
Asked about declining support for Obama among white voters — and about the percentage of such voters necessary for victory — Obama spokesman Adam Fetcher said only that Obama would be better for middle-class voters than Romney.
“Middle-class Americans, regardless of age, gender or race, have a clear choice in this election. Whether it’s on the stump or by mobilizing grass-roots volunteers in neighborhoods across the country, President Obama is working to tell every American about his concrete, detailed plan to move America forward, get folks back to work and strengthen the middle class,” he said.
The national polling data do mask important regional differences.
Even though Obama lost white voters overall in 2008, he won 50 percent or more of their votes in 18 states and the District.
And some state-by-state polling has indicated that Obama is performing better among white voters in key states he needs to collect the 270 electoral college votes to win reelection.
In Ohio this year, he trails Romney by six percentage points among whites in a new poll by Time magazine, far under his margin nationally. In Ohio, Romney is winning white men by nearly 20 points, 56 percent to 38 percent, but white women are breaking narrowly for the president, 49 percent to 43 percent.
Obama won in 2008 in part by raising his support among minority voters — and boosting the percentage of minorities who voted. But it also came by outperforming past Democratic candidates among whites.
In capturing 43 percent of the white vote for president, Obama performed better than any Democrat since Bill Clinton, who won 43 percent in a three-way split in 1996. Clinton’s effort had represented the best effort for a Democrat among white voters in two decades.
Those gains appear likely to be erased this year.
In a rapidly diversifying country, the percentage of the nation’s population that is white drops 2 percent every four years, said David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. And even among white voters, Republicans perform best among older voters, who will age out of the voting rolls in coming years.
Without improving tallies with minorities, Bositis said, “I think this will be the peak for Republicans.”
“The formula they have right now is a long-term loser,” he said.
In 1988, the last time there was such a prominent racial gap, white voters sided with George H.W. Bush over Michael Dukakis by 59 percent to 40 percent, with nonwhites breaking 78 percent to 20 percent for the Democrat. Were Obama to slip into the 30s among white voters this year, it would be the first time for a Democrat in a two-way race since Walter Mondale did so in 1984, losing white voters to President Ronald Reagan by 64 percent to 35 percent.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.