Asked which candidate would do more to advance their families’ economic interests, middle-class white voters who say they are struggling to maintain their financial positions chose Romney over Obama by a large margin — 58 percent to 32 percent.
The results underscore a continuing challenge for Obama and the Democratic Party with white voters, and particularly those without college degrees — who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are significantly more likely to be unemployed than those with higher education.
Indeed, among whites who described themselves as struggling to maintain their economic footing — regardless of their current class — nearly seven in 10 lacked a college diploma. And although they lean more Republican than the population in general, it is a group that neither party can ignore. In the new poll, 31 percent of these voters described themselves as Republicans, 27 percent as Democrats.
In 2008, Obama lost whites without college degrees by a big margin, 58 percent to 40 percent, according to the national exit poll. That performance among such voters was similar to John F. Kerry’s in 2004 and Al Gore’s in 2000.
“Democrats are very likely to lose those voters” again this year, said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster.
“The question is by how much.”
One factor that may help the president is that, in the 14 or fewer swing states likely to determine the outcome of the election, unemployment rates have dropped more sharply than they have for the nation as a whole.
But the extended economic hardship many Americans are facing — across racial and partisan lines — makes those who are vulnerable a particularly important target group for both campaigns.
The president’s reelection team is attempting to portray Romney as out of touch with and unsympathetic to the anxieties of middle-class Americans. A much-talked-about Obama campaign advertisement airing in Ohio depicts Bain Capital, a private-equity firm that Romney founded, as a “vampire” that sucked the last financial lifeblood of failing companies at the expense of their workers.
All of the people featured in the ad criticizing Bain appear to be white.
The spot, however, has brought criticism from within the president’s party, including from Edward G. Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor and Democratic Party chairman. They have expressed concern that the tone of the attack will make the party appear to be opposed to the private-equity industry, which is an important player in the national economy and a major source of campaign contributions.