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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Chait: Polls May Overestimate Size of White Electorate

Jonathan Chait has a provocative post up at New York magazine, and if his theory is right, Republicans may be in for an unpleasant shock. Noting President Obama’s seeming confidence in the face of numerous polls showing a close election, Chait speculates:

The best explanation I can muster is that the polls are assuming a much different, and more GOP-friendly, electorate than either party. ABC’s poll assumes that 78 percent of registered voters are white. That is … a whole lot of white people. The white share of the electorate has been dropping steadily for more than twenty years — from 87 percent in 1992 to 83 percent in 1996 to 81 percent in 2000, 77 percent in 2004, and 74 percent four years ago. Ron Brownstein’s recent reporting suggests that both campaigns expect an electorate that’s about 74 percent white. The same problem seems to appear in numerous other polls. Many of them don’t release their racial breakdowns, but those that do seem to imply electorates far whiter than the campaigns are banking on. As pollster Mark Blumenthal has exhaustively shown, Gallup has systematically underweighted the number of minorities in its polls, due to technical issues related to the difficulty of finding and weighting poll respondents.
Now, we don’t know what the racial composition of the electorate will look like. But it is utterly key. Assuming the 74 percent white makeup, and further assuming that Obama’s standing among nonwhite voters holds up as it has with high consistency, then Romney needs to win white voters by more than 20 points, perhaps by around 22 points, in order to prevail. Few polls show him doing that. The ABC poll has him winning whites by eighteen points.

It’s possible that Obama’s confident demeanor is just a reflection of his cool — the guy just doesn’t rattle easily. He has a touch of the FDR temperament in that respect. But Chait may be on to something, considering the explosive growth of the non-white electorate. It’s quite possible that the demographic breakdown analysis of most pollsters is lagging behind reality.
None of which changes the priority challenge facing Democrats — to launch the most extensive and intensive GOTV mobilization of the base constituencies in the history of the party.

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