While President Obama’s re-election campaign can boast multiple demographic pathways to victory on November 6, strategists on both campaigns are looking intently at the white vote. 2012, of course, is more diverse than 2008, and 2010 U.S. Census Bureau numbers prove the American population is browning rapidly. Whether or not Barack Obama can keep himself from the becoming the first one-term Black president hinges on the turnout of white voters — despite all the platitudes about minority turnout.
Both campaigns spent time hammering through the Olympic Games’ clutter. In the attempt, both camps threw signals into the election atmosphere to see which one would stick — and how much middle-class, white voters would pay attention.
“If President Obama gets 40 percent of the white vote, he has a chance to win re-election,” writes BuzzFeed’s politics blogger John Ellis. “If President Obama gets 35 percent of the white vote, he's finished.”
According to the most recent YouGov numbers, that’s a tough hill to climb. In total, only 37 percent of white voters approve of the president — compared to 56 percent who disapprove. In terms of voter preference, it’s the same as 53 percent of white voters identify themselves at Mitt Romney supporters.
In 2008, then-candidate Obama won 43 percent of the white vote. The last Democratic presidential nominee to do that was Bill Clinton in 1996.
This was the reasoning some observers pointed to in rationalizing the Republican nominee’s recent gaffe-ridden trip to Europe. Republican strategists were not too keen on admitting it, either on or off record, but there were a number of reasons why Romney would want to visit England and Poland. The kick-off of Team Romney’s aggressive courting for white votes was unapologetic as one senior campaign aide bragged about the “special” Anglo-Saxon ties between Britain and the United States that the current president — being as Black as he is — didn’t “appreciate.”
But, those controversial comments provided more indication that Republicans believe they also have multiple pathways to victory. The only dilemma is they are all white. That’s problematic when going up against an incumbent who can rely on cobbling together a number of diverse cultural outlets: Blacks, Hispanics, LGBTs, women, etc. … and at least some of the white vote, too.
Based on President Obama’s approval ratings among whites, that won’t stop the Romney campaign from nibbling away at ethnic Caucasian enclaves and voters in key states. The visit to Poland is an example of this strategy. Polish-American voters account for nearly 10 percent of the overall electorate. That number include places like Pennsylvania, a very critical battleground state, where the Polish population is near 8 percent and is one of the Top 6 “ethnic” demographics in the state.
Still, the majority of Polish-Americans identify themselves as Democrats. “It is not unreasonable to conclude that many Polish-American Democrats tend to be in the more conservative wing of the party,” was the conclusion of the non-partisan Piast Institute, a group which studies such trends.
The foreign policy benefits are a bit limited, but Romney probably represents — minus the election — the first in what will later become a very public wave of U.S. support for a strong buffer country against Russia. As it turns out, Poland is ranked 22nd globally in military expenditures. Noted geopolitical analyst George Friedman predicts Poland will become a world power by the middle of the century.
There’s more to it, however, than just Polish vote perks and a likely partner in the quiet post-Cold War against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Nearly 90 percent of the Polish population is devoutly Roman Catholic, another blatant play the GOP is making for Catholic votes — from the contraceptives controversy to continuing flaps over abortion and the much-hyped “War on Women.”
But, it’s the Jewish element to Romney’s European trip that had Team Obama strategists worried, even as the president’s surrogates openly mocked and clowned the tour as amateur hour. The Republican candidate made back-to-back jumps from Israel to Poland, from the Jewish homeland to a country ranked among the Top 20 countries with significant Jewish populations. That Romney would make stops in both is a formidable acknowledgement of Jewish history. Poland holds a very deep and heartfelt place in the Jewish Diaspora’s heart since it contained one of the largest and most active pockets of European Jews before their tragic near-extermination during the Holocaust.
While poking fun at Romney’s overseas gaffes, cautious Democratic observers were playing careful attention to the Republican candidate’s overtures to Jewish voters. And Democrats have had problems wooing Jewish donors as the perception of an unfriendly President Obama who chides Israel in favor of Palestinian interests is growing.
Romney’s European tour may have been one of many brazen shots in the war for ethnic white votes. “Now it’s a smaller percentage of the population — of the voting population — than it used to be, but white voters are still much more Republican than any other group in the electorate,” opined NPR political analyst Cokie Roberts. “They went for McCain in 2008 by 55 percent. And I think that getting those ethnic voters excited is really what Romney has in mind here.”