Before Debate, Poll Showed Obama Hitting Demographic Targets

Steven Shepard
National Journal

If President Obama matches the 80 percent he won in 2008 among nonwhite voters, including African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and others, he can reassemble a national majority by attracting only about 40 percent of whites. As Democrats have become fond of saying, that is a matter of arithmetic, so long as nonwhites represent at least as much as the roughly one-fourth of the electorate they constituted last time.

A new Apollo Group/National Journal Next America poll conducted just before last week's debate in Denver found Obama straddling those make-or-break targets, capturing 39 percent of white voters and 81 percent of nonwhites.

While the debate and the September unemployment report may have altered the race since the poll was conducted, the survey found Obama leading Mitt Romney overall, 50 percent to 46 percent among likely voters. Three percent of likely voters were undecided or preferred another candidate.

The poll was conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 2 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. It includes interviews with 1,246 adults, including separate oversamples of African Americans and Hispanics. For the oversamples, some African Americans and Hispanics were re-contacted from previous surveys, while others were obtained via random-digit dialing, the method for the full poll. For results among 608 likely voters (723 with the oversamples), the margin of error is plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.

The full poll, which focuses mostly on attitudes toward education and training among whites and minorities, will be released next week in National Journal magazine.

Among white voters, Romney led, 58 percent to 39 percent. But Obama held a commanding lead among nonwhites, 81 percent to 16 percent. White voters made up 70 percent of likely voters in the poll, nonwhites made up 27 percent and 3 percent declined to give their race. In 2008, whites made up 74 percent of the electorate, while nonwhites made up roughly 26 percent.

Since 2008, the white share of the eligible voter population has declined to around 71 percent and the nonwhite share increased to almost 29 percent, according to recent analysis of Census data. While it's unlikely the minority share of the vote will rise fully that much in November, it has increased in every election since 1992. Correspondingly, the white share of the vote has declined in each election since then.

Drilling down into the poll's African-American and Hispanic oversamples, the poll is the latest in a series of surveys to show Obama crossing the 70-percent threshold among Latinos; the survey showed him drawing nearly three-fourths of those likely to vote. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo oversample last week showed Obama at 70 percent among Hispanic registered voters and 71 percent among Hispanics likely to vote, while a CNN/ORC International Hispanic oversample showed Obama at 73 percent and 70 percent among registered and likely Hispanics, respectively. Last week's impreMedia/Latino Decisions Weekly Political Tracking Poll also showed Obama at 73 percent among registered Hispanics.

While the Hispanic likely voter pool for the Next America poll is very small (even with the large oversample of Hispanics overall) and carries a large margin of error -- plus-or-minus 13.5 percentage points -- it does conform to the other surveys and underscores Obama's developing improvement among Latino voters. In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to 31 percent for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Obama also holds among a near-unanimous hold over black voters, 93 percent to 4 percent, according to that oversample, which was slightly larger for likely voters: 148 respondents, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 11.7 percentage points. While the oversamples for African-American and Hispanic adults were of similar sizes, Hispanics were significantly less likely to identify as likely voters, leading to the relatively higher margin of error.

That presents a turnout challenge for Obama. Latino voters made up 9 percent of likely voters in the Next America poll, equal to their share of the electorate in 2008. But since the Hispanic population continues to grow, a 9-percent turnout level in November would represent a decline in their representation relative to the overall voting-age population.

Among all adults, the poll also shows Obama with majority approval and favorability, while fully half of Americans view Romney unfavorably. But it's not yet clear how those numbers might be affected by last week's events.

The poll is the second in a series of surveys measuring the attitudes of Americans toward the demographic changes occurring in this country. Relative to the first poll, conducted in early April, the new survey shows even greater racial polarization with regard to the presidential race. The previous poll found Obama ahead by an 8-point margin among registered voters, with the president earning 42 percent of the white vote and 76 percent of the nonwhite vote.