TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira provides a solid analysis at The New Republic today of precisely how well Barack Obama needs to do among white working-class voters to win re-election in 2012:
In 2008, during his otherwise-solid election victory, Obama lost the white working class vote by 18 points. In 2010, however, things got much worse: Congressional Democrats’ experienced a catastrophic 30 point deficit among the same group. While the first number is a figure Obama could live with repeating, the second could very well prove fatal.
Teixeira goes on to explain that white working class voters, which have been trending Republican heavily in presidential contests since 1996, are particularly important in key swing states:
White working class voters could end up representing as much as 56 percent of Ohio voters in 2012, judging from Census voter supplement data. Anything close to a 30 point deficit in 2012 will almost definitely sink Obama in this state, no matter what happens with the friendlier portions of the Ohio electorate….
Contested states with high proportions of white working class voters like Minnesota (60 percent white working class in 2012), Wisconsin (58 percent), Pennsylvania (55 percent), and Michigan (53 percent) could easily be flipped if this group flees from Obama.
In the long run, of course, white working class voters represent a shrinking percentage of the electorate. But this one-time bulwark of the Democratic Party can still decide elections.
[T]he good news for Obama is that the level of support he needs from this group of voters is not terribly high. While a 30 point deficit might sink him, he could survive pretty easily on a 23 point deficit, John Kerry’s margin in 2004. That Obama would likely win with this very large deficit, while Kerry lost, indicates just how much the demographics of the country have changed in the 8 years since Kerry’s defeat. But while the bar for Obama may be lower, he still needs to clear it, and at the moment, that’s looking like a real challenge.