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Only in the South does Romney have a big lead over Obama among working-class whites

The conventional political wisdom this year has been that President Obama is not especially popular among working-class white folks. But that might be an oversimplification.

A survey commissioned last month by the Public Religion Research Institute SHOWS a more complicated picture:

The results of this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted between August 2, 2012 and August 15, 2012, among a random sample of 2,501 adults living in the continental United States. The survey includes a special focus on white working-class Americans, who are defined as non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs, and make up roughly one-third (36%) of all Americans.

In mid-August, Governor Mitt Romney held a double-digit advantage over President Barack Obama among white working-class voters (48% vs. 35%), while white college-educated voters were nearly evenly divided in their voting preferences (44% supporting Romney vs. 42% supporting Obama). However, white working-class voters are not monolithic and their preferences varied substantially by region, religious affiliation, and gender.

  • In mid-August, Romney held a commanding 40-point lead over Obama among white working-class voters in the South (62% vs. 22%). However, neither candidate held a statistically significant lead among white working-class voters in the West (46% Romney vs. 41% Obama), Northeast (42% Romney vs. 38% Obama), or the Midwest (36% Romney vs. 44% Obama).
  • Romney enjoyed a 2-to-1 advantage over Obama among white working-class Protestant voters (56% vs. 27%), but white working-class Catholic voters were nearly evenly divided (44% Romney vs. 41% Obama).
  • White working-class men favored Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 (55% vs. 28%), but white working-class women were evenly divided between Romney and Obama (41% each).
  • Despite Romney’s overall lead among white working-class voters, neither candidate holds strong appeal. Less than half of white working-class Americans have a favorable view of Obama (44%) or Romney (45%). By contrast, over 6-in-10 (61%) white working-class Americans have a favorable opinion of former President Bill Clinton, and a slim majority (51%) have a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush.

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It’s now more than five weeks later, and some of the numbers above probably have changed — and likely to Obama’s benefit, given his recent gains in polls conducted nationally and in battleground states.

Thomas B. Edsall notes in THIS PIECE in The New York Times that the Romney campaign has pretty much given up on Pennsylvania, despite its sizable white working-class population:

Pennsylvania demographics suggested that the state was fair game for Republicans. Seniors are a key source of support for Romney, and the state has a higher percentage of voters over the age of 65, 15.6 percent, than the country as a whole (13.3 percent). Pennsylvania is substantially whiter, at 79.2 percent, than the rest of the nation (63.4 percent). And unemployment in Pennsylvania matches the national rate at 8.1 percent.

Both the Obama and Romney campaigns made significant investments in advertising in Pennsylvania. The pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, and two conservative PACs, Crossroads GPS and Americans For Prosperity, have together spent a total of $9.7 million; the Obama campaign and its allied super PAC, Priorities USA Action, have spent $8 million.

By the end of August, however, ad buying stopped. The Romney campaign effectively conceded the state.

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