First, a few definitional ground rules. As someone whose book is often described as being “about” the white working class, and why it left the Democratic Party, I’m painfully aware of the limitations of data and definitions of that much-discussed group. This study defines them as “non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs.” Some polls define the white working class by income, but increasingly the more politically unique group – and the most politically troublesome for Democrats — is those without college degrees. Also: This is a new study and it doesn’t track the same group over election cycles, so we can’t know if their opinions have changed in the age of Obama, but it’s fascinating and useful nonetheless.
As most analysts have asserted, they are, as a group, trouble for Obama — in mid-August Romney led 48-35 — but there were interesting regional differences. Romney led Obama by a staggering 40 points in the South (62-22) while Obama actually led Romney 44-38 in the Midwest (hello, auto industry rescue?), and the two candidates were nearly tied in the West and Northeast. White working-class Protestants favor Romney 2-1, while Catholics are evenly split. Likewise, Romney clobbers Obama with men, but the candidates are tied for the votes of women. And younger white working-class voters support Obama.
A pattern emerges: Obama is doing surprisingly well with white working-class voters — but he may have to write off most older, Southern, white working-class Protestant men.
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