Which voters are causing the most trouble for Mitt Romney?
The new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, released Tuesday evening, shows Mr. Romney trailing President Barack Obama — perhaps dangerously so, given the shrinking pool of undecided voters. But it also points to ways that Mr. Romney could be winning, if only he could hold on to some big voting groups that have supported him more firmly in the past.
Take a look at white voters with college educations. They make up about a third of all voters, and they’ve been open to supporting the Republican nominee at various points this year. But lately, they’ve been backing away, contributing to Mr. Romney’s currently lagging position in the race. Mr. Romney trails Mr. Obama by five percentage points among all likely voters, with 45% support, compared with the president’s 50%.
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In May, Mr. Romney had a 13-point lead among college-educated whites. But his position has steadily deteriorated. This month, Mr. Romney actually trails the president by two percentage points among white college graduates—the third straight month in which Mr. Romney has sunk to just about parity.
Mr. Romney’s failure to build a stronger position among these voters is significant. Given the president’s commanding lead among minority voters, Mr. Romney has to build big margins among other large demographic groups.
The Journal poll points to other trouble spots for Mr. Romney. He’s had difficulty, for example, holding on to wealthier voters. In combined results from the first five Journal polls of this year, Mr. Romney led by six percentage points among people in households earning $100,000 or more – 50% to Mr. Obama’s 44%. More recently, the two candidates have been running even among those voters.
This month’s poll contained a surprise: Mr. Obama leads among $100,000 households by a remarkable 16 points—56% to 40%. The president’s big boost in September’s poll may be an anomaly — pollsters usually don’t put much weight on a finding until it turns up several times. But even if overstated, the trend is not good for Mr. Romney.
Another big problem for Mr. Romney is among men. They skewed narrowly toward Mr. Romney in some earlier months, but he and the president are now essentially tied.
That’s a problem for the Republican, because Mr. Obama has strong support from women. This month, he’s up by 10 percentage points among women voters.
“Poll after poll, we keep seeing the president winning women by double digits and essentially within the margin of error among men,’’ says Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who conducts the Journal survey with Democrat Peter Hart. “Sooner or later, if Romney is going to win, either that women number has to drop, or the male number has to go up appreciably.’’
The Journal poll had some good news for Mr. Romney. Among the voters who say they’re most interested in the election, he leads by three percentage points, 49% to 46%.
Mr. McInturff finds that to be potentially significant. “It’s a suggestion that, even as we try our best to estimate what the electorate may look like, there continues to be evidence . . . that the composition of the electorate could be a point or two more Republican,’’ he says. Such a shift could be a “huge deal’’ Mr. McInturff says—but, of course, only if Mr. Romney moves close enough to the president for such a change to provide a margin of victory.
But the poll also shows continuing problems for Mr. Romney. He holds an eight-point lead among white voters, topping Mr. Obama 51% to 43%. But that isn’t good enough. Mr. Obama carried 43% of the white vote in 2008—and easily won the election.
A recent boost in economic optimism is another problem, since it challenges Mr. Romney’s central argument that the president has failed to invigorate the economy. That rising optimism extends to swing states, where 43% of voters say the economy will improve over the next year, compared to 16% who think it will worsen.
For Mr. Hart, the Democratic pollster, the overriding message of the poll is that Mr. Obama’s coalition is solidifying. “It’s now getting cemented,’’ he said. “Those fissures that were there about the direction of the economy and the direction of the nation have now started to heal, rather than crack.’’
By Aaron Zitner, The Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2012