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Obama Faces Uphill Climb vs. McCain Among White Voters

Obama Faces Uphill Climb vs. McCain Among White Voters

PRINCETON, NJ -- Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee, will likely enter the general election with more of a handicap among white voters than would have been the case if Hillary Clinton had been the nominee, based mainly on Clinton's stronger performance among white women.

A new Gallup Poll analysis of Daily tracking data collected between May 1 and May 17 shows that Clinton's edge among white voters is not, as some have hypothesized, based on Obama's problems among blue-collar white men, but reflects more the fact of Clinton's strength among white women.

White Male Voters

In general, Obama and Clinton perform exactly the same among non-Hispanic white men when pitted against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. Both Obama and Clinton lose to McCain among this group by 21-point margins, 36% to 57%.

There has been discussion of Obama's presumed problem among blue-collar white males should he win the Democratic nomination. The current analysis shows that relative to Clinton, however, Obama does not suffer from a large "blue-collar male" deficit as has been hypothesized. Obama loses to McCain in a hypothetical matchup among non-college-educated white men by 25 points, while Clinton loses by 20 points.

Additionally, Obama has a compensatory strength among white-collar men, defined here as those with a college education. Among this group, Obama loses to McCain by 13 points while Clinton loses by 22 points.

All in all, these data suggest that the Democrats' probable nomination of Obama rather than Clinton does not mean Democrats will enter the general election with a bigger deficit among white men than they would have if Clinton were the nominee. The data from May suggest that Clinton may have done only slightly better than Obama against McCain among blue-collar white men, and that this slight advantage likely would have been offset by Obama's slight advantage among college-educated men.

White Female Voters

Among non-Hispanic white women, however, there is a significant difference in the way the two Democratic candidates perform against McCain.

Both Obama and Clinton do better among white women than among white men vs. McCain -- a typical pattern for Democratic presidential candidates. But there are differences between the two Democratic candidates. While Obama loses to McCain by a nine-point margin among white women, Clinton wins by a three-point margin.

This difference persists when white women are segmented into two groups by education.

While Obama loses to McCain by 16 points among non-Hispanic white women with no college, Clinton ties McCain. And while Obama does manage to squeak out a four-point advantage over McCain among college-educated white women, Clinton has an 11-point margin.


Although there has been a great deal of discussion of the problems that await Obama among white men should he win the Democratic nomination, this analysis suggests that while McCain certainly has a strength among this group, it is no more of a strength against Obama than it would be against Clinton. Clinton's slight advantage among blue-collar white men is offset by Obama's advantage among white-collar white men.

The bigger issue appears to be Obama's problems among white women, when compared to how Clinton would perform among this group. Obama loses to McCain by nine points among white women, while Clinton wins by three points. Clinton does better than Obama among both blue-collar and white-collar white women.

All in all, although both Democrats are to a degree handicapped against McCain among white voters, Clinton would perform better than Obama in a general-election matchup among non-Hispanic whites. Combining white voters of both genders, the current analysis shows that McCain wins over Obama among whites, 53% to 38%, and beats Clinton by a considerably smaller 51% to 42% margin.

It is important to note that Obama runs about as well vs. McCain as Clinton does, and both Democrats currently maintain a slight advantage over McCain in general-election trial heats. So any weaker relative performance for Obama vs. McCain among a demographic group (such as white women or lower-educated voters) is made up for by a stronger relative performance among another group (such as blacks or higher-educated voters).

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 14,755 national adults who report being registered to vote, aged 18 and older, conducted May 1-17, 2008, as part of the Gallup Poll Daily tracking program. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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