Obama’s Coalition Is Going Strong — And Could Be Growing

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(Credit: Flickr user Joshua Bentley)

We’re almost exactly half way through 2013. It’s a good time to ask whether the coalition of voters Obama rode to victory in 2012 is sticking with the president under the pressure of conflict with Congress, several “scandals,” and an economy that seems stuck in slow recovery mode.

An easy way to get a sense of the coalition’s health is to look Obama’s job approval numbers by demographic group and see how they compare with his support by demographic group in the 2012 election. The latest Pew Center poll allows us to do that by providing a very detailed table with Obama’s approval numbers broken down by dozens of demographics. The general health of Obama’s coalition looks pretty good — maybe even great.

His support among minorities remains extremely high. Black approval is 87 percent (though this a fall-off from the 93 percent support he got in the election) and Hispanic approval is 71 percent, identical with his 2012 vote support, with a 50 point approval spread (approval-disapproval) that exceeds his 44 point margin among Hispanics in 2012.

His support among Millennials is also holding up. Obama’s 58 percent approval rating among 18-29 year olds is just under his 60 percent vote support in 2012 with his approval spread (25 points) again exceeding his 2012 support margin (23 points).

The Pew data also include detailed breakdowns among whites, the source of some of the most intriguing data on the Obama coalition. First, Obama is doing substantially better among white college graduates than he did in the election. Not only is his approval rating among this group (44 percent) now higher than his 2012 vote support (42 percent) but his approval spread today (-5 points) is also far better than his vote support margin last November (-14 points).

This change is being driven by white female college grads. In 2012, Obama got 46 percent of this group, losing them by 6 points, a considerable falloff from 2008 when he carried them by 5 points. In the new Pew data, Obama has 49 percent approval among this demographic and sports a positive 5 point approval spread.

The news is less positive among the white working class. Obama’s job approval (34 percent) is a couple of points down from his abysmal 36 percent vote support in 2012. Interestingly, while his overall approval spread (-24) among this demographic is pretty close to his 2012 vote margin (-25), men and women have gone in opposite directions. Obama now garners only 29 percent approval among white working class men, with an approval spread (-35) which is distinctly worse than his 2012 vote margin among this demographic (-31). White working class women on the other hand give Obama an approval rating of 39 percent, identical with his 2012 vote support among this group, and an approval spread (-13) substantially better than his 2012 vote margin (-20).

These data suggest that continued Republican extremism and intransigence may be swelling the mostly intact Obama coalition with more white college-educated women (and perhaps some white working class women). On the other hand, the GOP appears to be shoring up their already formidable position among white working class men, one of the most conservative groups in the electorate. We shall see if this trade-off turns out to be a wise strategy or an inadvertent gift to the Obama coalition.