Barack Obama, the first black major party nominee, is positioned to win the largest share of white voters of any Democrat in more than three decades, according to an exclusive Politico analysis of recent Gallup and Pew Research Center polling.
The most recent two weeks of Gallup polling, which includes roughly 13,000 interviews, show 44 percent of non-Hispanic white voters presently support Obama — the highest number for a Democrat since 47 percent of whites backed Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Until the stock market swoon in mid-September, Obama had never reached 40 percent among white voters.
No Democrat has won a majority of white voters since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. John McCain has shuffled between 48 percent and 50 percent support in recent weeks — which would be the lowest share for a Republican candidate in a two-man race since Barry Goldwater's run.
If Obama's share holds, it would top the 43 percent of white voters who backed Bill Clinton in 1996, when the Democrat won a plurality among white females and 38 percent of white men, the best performance by a Democrat in all those categories since 1976.
Before the party conventions, Obama's support among white men had never passed 35 percent. In September, he matched Clinton's level of support, and last week he jumped five points to 43 percent.
“That is amazing,” Obama’s pollster Cornell Belcher said after those numbers were read to him.
“It was already a change election and now you have a cross pressure of the economy,” he said, causing whites “who have not been voting for white Democrats" to back Obama.
A Politico breakdown of the Pew polling shows dramatic improvement for Obama among whites since early September on the question of who would do a better job "improving the economy." White women, who last month were split, now believe Obama will do a better job “improving the economy” by a 49 to 35 percent margin. White men, who had favored McCain by 10 points, are now split with 41 percent preferring Obama and 43 percent McCain.
About half of whites say the economy is the most important issue in this campaign, while 8 percent said Iraq and 6 percent terrorism, according to the ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll covering Monday through Thursday.
In a similar poll in mid-October 2004, white voters were evenly split, with 26 percent citing the economy as the most important issue, while 25 percent said Iraq and 21 percent said terrorism.
A new Public Policy Polling report shows Obama's newfound leads in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida result from gains among white voters.
“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,” the report concluded. “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.”
Only 7 percent of voters today are satisfied with the direction of the country, the lowest number in Gallup’s history. The reason, Gallup repeatedly notes, is the economy.
A new report by the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that in 13 battleground states, rural voters — nine in 10 of whom are white — were split, with 46 percent backing Obama and 45 percent McCain. In September these voters favored McCain by 10 points .
The report found that Obama’s “improvement is driven by rising voter concerns over the economy in the aftermath of the collapse on Wall Street.”
A recent analysis by Gallup of some 40,000 interviews found that Obama's lead over McCain “has risen proportionately when the percentage of Americans who are negative about the U.S. economy increases.”
McCain maintains large advantages over Obama with white voters on issues ranging from instituting a “wise foreign policy” to “defending the nation” to “dealing with immigration.” But all of these issues, which have tended to draw whites toward the Republican party, have been eclipsed amongst voter concerns by the market dives.
Pew recently found that 35 percent of whites said they are “most concerned about the financial markets” specifically, compared with 17 percent of blacks.
Eight-six percent of white Democrats now support Obama, roughly equal to what John F. Kerry earned in 2004. Until the economic crisis began, that number had been in the 70s, on par with Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Clinton in 1992.
More than eight in 10 white working-class Democrats now back Obama, roughly a 20 percentage point rise compared to the week before the Democratic convention.
Obama also splits white independents with McCain, with 46 percent backing each candidate, a performance unseen by a Democrat since Clinton in 1996. In the past week, Obama’s support has slightly waned with independent white working-class men, the largest group of independents. But he has gained with women in the same bloc.
Until the market collapse, Obama was narrowly losing white Catholics. He's now opened up a 54 percent to 39 percent lead, according to Pew.
While Obama’s support among whites under age 30 has long been stronger than recent Democratic nominees, he's now within single digits among white voters age 50 to 64 as well as seniors, according to Pew.
It remains to be seen if Obama's polling numbers among whites translate into support within the privacy of the election booth. About one in five voters say they “personally” know someone who will “not vote for Obama because he is black.”
But the economy, in Belcher's view, has mitigated even the role of race. “We are seeing race being trumped by economic concerns and overall changes in the direction of the country in a fundamental way,” he said. “That is perhaps pushing aside, for the first time in our cultural history, race as a debilitating obstacle.”