Two polls released today show a wildly divergent picture of the presidential race in Michigan. On one end is a poll conducted by Mitchell Research & Communications, which shows a dead-heat in the traditionally Democratic state. According to Mitchell, Obama holds a one point lead over Romney among likely voters, 45 percent to 44 percent. This is a decline from earlier in the summer, when Obama won 47 percent of the vote, although the margin is the same.
On the other end is the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, which shows Obama in excellent shape among the state’s voters, with a 14 point lead over Romney, 53 percent to 39 percent. The key point is that Obama has essentially maintained his coalition from 2008; he wins 48 percent of white voters—with 59 percent support among young whites — and 89 percent of African Americans.
Mitchell Research hasn’t released their cross-tabs, but given their picture of a close race, my guess is that they would show Obama with weak support among white voters, and particularly the working-class whites that gave Obama their heavy support in the previous election. Indeed, the key question for anyone looking at Michigan is whether Obama has maintained his white support. If polls from similar states are any indication — Ohio, Minnesota, and Wisconsin — Obama is in decent shape. He wins 49 percent of whites in Wisconsin, 42 percent in Ohio, and 54 percent in Minnesota (his Ohio lead, 3 points according to PPP, is held up by overwhelming African American support). However, if those totals begin to decline, then you’ll likely see similar movement in Michigan. In which case, the state could become a toss-up.
This gets to one of the quirks of this election. If Romney wins, it won’t be because he replicated George W. Bush’s 2004 performance. Because of demographic changes, and Obama’s high support among nonwhites, there’s a strong chance he’ll hold states like Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada, even in the event of a loss. By contrast, Obama has lost substantial support among working-class whites, and they are the prime demographic for appeals from the Romney campaign.
If Obama can’t recover among working-class whites — which, at this point, is still an open question — then it’s not hard to imagine an election day where he holds the upper South and the West, but loses Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, on account of disaffected white voters.