Yesterday John Harwood reported an undertold story of this election: Barack Obama's strength among white voters relative to how Democrats usually perform.
If Tuesday's election were confined to white America, polls show, Senator Barack Obama would lose.
And yet Mr. Obama's strength across racial lines lies at the heart of his lead in the polls over Senator John McCain heading into Election Day. Remarkably, Mr. Obama, the first black major party presidential nominee, trails among whites by less than Democratic nominees normally do.
America's political parties grew decisively polarized by race after 1964, the year President Lyndon Johnson signed civil rights legislation that his Republican presidential opponent, Barry Goldwater, opposed. Since then, election pollsters estimate, Democratic nominees have averaged 39 percent of the white vote. In last week's New York Times/CBS News poll, Mr. Obama drew 44 percent support among whites -- a higher proportion than Bill Clinton captured in his general election victories.
According to exit polls, John Kerry won just 41% of the white vote four years ago.
Obama's impressive strength among white voters has been evident at the state level for some time. A couple weeks ago I posted on a Public Policy Polling report about the true root of Barack Obama's strength in the South: his appeal among white voters.
For example, in their North Carolina poll, they found that overall Obama was out-performing John Kerry by 18 points in the state. Obama's increased performance among African-American voters accounted for 5% of that; his increased support among white voters accounted for the other 13%.
The reason they found for this increase:
-Economy, Economy, Economy. Among white voters in North Carolina who list it as their top issue Obama is actually up 48-46. In Florida Obama has the same 48-46 lead with whites most concerned about the economy. In Virginia it's a 49-46 advantage. Even as Obama continues to trail by a good amount with whites overall in these states, he's winning with them on the issue foremost on voters' minds this year. There's not much doubt the economy is the main factor causing whites who voted Republican for President in 2004 to go Democratic this year. That is the single biggest factor driving his lead in the polls across the country right now.
Quinnipiac concurs. Here are the results of Quinnipiac's numbers out of PA, OH & FL:
- Florida: Obama at 47 percent to McCain's 45 percent, unchanged from October 29;
- Ohio: Obama up 50 - 43 percent, compared to 51 - 42 percent last week;
- Pennsylvania: Obama ahead 52 - 42 percent, compared to 53 - 41 percent last week.
Their rather remarkable conclusion:
"Sen. Obama appears headed for the best showing of any Democratic candidate among white voters in a generation, going back at least to Jimmy Carter in 1976 and perhaps even to Lyndon Johnson in 1964," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"Race has been an issue, but green, not black or white, appears to be the color that matters most. Voters overwhelmingly say the economy is the major issue that leads to their vote and they see Sen. Obama as better able to handle the nation's money problems," Brown added.
Barack Obama's outperforming even Bill Clinton among white voters is a rather dramatic irony considering conventional wisdom had it that Obama's weakness in some states among white voters vis a vis Hillary Clinton in the primary would carry over to the general. Clearly it simply hasn't.