Obama pursues working-class white voters

The Obama campaign’s recent outreach effort aimed at non-college educated white voters may work because the demographic’s tepid support for President Barack Obama is partly offset by its low regard for the GOP presidential candidates.

First Lady Michelle Obama will be in Florida a the Ford 400 NASCAR race making the Obama campaign pitch next week and then back to Washington for the “Country Music: In Performance at the White House.” The one-day event features a line-up of famous county music singers, including Dierks Bentley, Alison Krauss and Kris Kristofferson.

Focusing on this demographic makes sense: A new CNN poll shows that Obama’s approval among whites is only 36 percent, and disapproval is 61 percent. This is a mirror image of his support among non-whites, where he has 67 approval and 32 disapproval.

But GOP leaders are not faring much better.

People without college degrees don’t trust national politicians, said Henry Olsen, the director of research at the American Enterprise Institute. GOP insiders need to appreciate the worry and insecurity of non-college voters, and to recognize their concerns about jobs, safety net programs, Chinese competition and uncontrolled immigration, he said.

Washington advocates, legislators and lobbyists “spend almost all of our lives … with high-achieving, college-educated peers, and we’re used to taking risks, to moving a lot, to managing our own careers,” he said. In contrast, working-class people are “much likely to be worried than we are … [and] tend to be risk-averse.”

Obama has pursued the white, non-college demographic steadily since 2008, chiefly through his alliance with unions.

That joint effort is demonstrated by his support for the auto unions, and his recent visits to auto factories. To some extent, these visits allow Obama to present himself as a friend of white and non-white people that lack college degrees, but they’re one of his primary outreach efforts to working-class whites.

In recent weeks, he’s also signaled his outreach to these voters by fending off progressives’ demands for easier immigration of Hispanic workers, by stepping up his rhetorical support for the military and for veterans, and by toughening his rhetoric towards China while traveling through Asia on a nine-day diplomatic trip.

Those skeptical voters may be his route to a 2012 victory because they’re also alienated from GOP politicians.

That fact was driven home on Nov. 8, when Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, saw safe Republican districts vote overwhelmingly against his reform of the union law governing the employment of 360,000 state workers, even as the voters also overwhelmingly rejected Obama’s controversial individual mandate.

Only a few days prior to the ballot, would-be GOP candidate Mitt Romney announced his support for the union law, which was defeated 61 percent to 39 percent.

Kasich and Romney lost the ballot in part because the working-class voters don’t trust ambitious politicians, and prefer to hold onto what they’ve got during difficult economic times, Olsen said.

GOP leaders “need to recognize that people are attached to these programs because they represent an island of security in a very insecure world, and presenting program changes either as a matter of necessity, … or as a matter of enhancing choices, is difficult with these voters,” Olsen said.

Immigration is a hot button issue, partly because the “people who are feeling [economic] pressure don’t feel that better-off Americans have their back,” Olsen said. Among these voters, “There’s sense that, ‘We’re Americans too, but you seem to think it’s more important to help Chinese or Mexicans that to help us.’”