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Obama and White Women

Topics: 2008

Last week, when reporting on the newly released NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the coverage by those outlets emphasized McCain's apparent lead among suburban women. Yesterday, New York Times columnist Frank Rich had this reaction:

[T]he myth of Democratic disarray is so pervasive that when “NBC Nightly News” and The Wall Street Journal presented their new poll results last week (Obama, 47 percent; McCain, 41 percent) they ignored their own survey’s findings to stick to the clichéd script. Both news organizations (and NBC’s sibling, MSNBC) dwelled darkly on Mr. Obama’s “problems with two key groups” (as NBC put it): white men, where he is behind 20 percentage points to Mr. McCain, and white suburban women, where he is behind 6 points.

Since that poll gives Mr. Obama not just a 19-point lead among all women but also a 7-point lead among white women, a 6-point deficit in one sliver of the female pie is hardly a heart-stopper. Nor is Mr. Obama’s showing among white men shocking news. No Democratic presidential candidate, including Bill Clinton, has won a majority of that declining demographic since 1964. Mr. Kerry lost white men by 25 points, and Mr. Gore did by 24 points (even as he won the popular vote).

Rich has a point.

I wondered how Obama's performance among white women in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll now compares to John Kerry recent polls and to the final vote in 2004. Let's start with other recent polls. I was able to track down numbers from three more surveys (as of this writing) that released results among white women. Ironically, the NBC/WSJ survey provides the most promising results for Obama among white women registered voters. He leads by seven percentage points on that survey among white women, but trails narrowly on the recent Gallup (-3) and Rasmussen (-4) surveys:

06-16_white women2006.png

When compared to the 2004 election, however, Obama is doing at least as well among white women right now as John Kerry did against George Bush in 2004. The table below shows both the exit poll results (the preferences of actual voters with no undecided) and the final Pew Research Center survey (finished three days before the election).

06-16_white women 2004.png

The final numbers in 2004 either show Obama doing better than Kerry (if you compare the margins) or as well as Kerry (if you focus on Obama's percentage of the vote). The national exit poll (weighted to the final count) showed Bush winning white women by an 11 point margin (55% to 44%). Hillary Clinton would likely be doing better against McCain than Obama among women right now, but it is hard to make the case with the latest results that Obama begins with a particularly acute problem with white women.

 

Comments
jsh1120:

I've followed this mini-brouhaha with some interest since it illustrates a common "slipperiness" with regard to demographic groups as they're presented in the media.

Note that the original NBC/WSJ report focuses on "suburban women." Yet the discussion easily slips into an examination of "white women." (That's not meant as a criticism of either Frank Rich or Mark, just noting that the two groups are hardly equivalent to one another.)

In the absence of any clear definition of what constitutes a "suburban woman," we all, I suspect assume it refers to white, married women living in what they (or the pollster or the census) consider to be a "suburb."

The criticism that such a sub-group is indeed a sliver of all females, all married people, and all white people is certainly valid. Not to mention that we have no idea exactly what a "suburb" is according to NBC/WSJ.

I find it interesting that the news media tosses these categories around as if there were some accepted definition of the demographic group they're discussing and with absolutely no guidance to a viewer/reader about how important (large) such a group is in terms of the overall electorate.

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brambster:

I've been thinking the same exact thing, and wondering why the media is focusing so much on this white women/white men thing when Obama is outperforming Kerry in the 2004 exit polls. It's almost as if they are trying to create a race issue when there isn't. It's hard to find a liberal or a moderate that is a racist and votes for Democrats in presidential elections, and this has been the case since the 60's. So for the Democrats, there is nothing lost that hasn't been gained back in other ways and then some.

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