NEW YORK — For all of the Democratic attacks painting Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch elitist who will help the rich at the expense of the middle class, he is maintaining the traditional — and sizable — Republican advantage among a politically vital constituency, white working-class voters in the states most likely to decide the presidential election.
And despite concerted Republican efforts to use the weak economy to drive a wedge between President Obama and female voters, the president is holding on to their crucial support in most battleground states.
Those findings, contained in the latest batch of Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News swing state polls, highlight the stubborn divisions of this year’s presidential race among two of the most important voting groups in the most hotly contested states.
But they also help explain the intense efforts of the two campaigns to alter the balance in both groups, which together will go a long way toward determining the outcome.
Obama’s goal is to keep Romney from running up huge margins among white working-class voters — defined as those without college degrees and household incomes of $30,000 to $100,000 — who could give him the edge.
New results from surveys over the past week in Colorado, Virginia, and Wisconsin, combined with surveys last week in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, show that Romney so far appears to be running no stronger with that group than Senator John McCain did four years ago.
Similarly, Romney is trying to peel off as many female voters as possible from Obama’s electoral coalition, hoping to offset the president’s advantages among single and nonwhite women by appealing to married and white women with a message about economic security.
But while the poll suggests Romney is making inroads among women in Colorado, where he is also showing strength against Obama by several other measures, support for Obama among women has otherwise held up in the battleground state.
Far more than national polls, which can track the mood of the electorate only as a whole, the results in the state-by-state polls provide a detailed snapshot of the race where it matters most, in geography and demography. They also help explain why both the Obama and Romney campaigns are focusing so much of their time and money on messages intended to resonate with such specific groups in such specific places.
The latest polls underscore just how tight the race continues to be, with the candidates running closely in Virginia and Colorado and Obama leading in Wisconsin, although not by his double-digit margin of victory in 2008. Obama won all three states in 2008.
Obama is struggling because of the economy and facing new challenges in Colorado, where his support among white men has fallen considerably from where it was in exit polls there in 2008.
But Romney is also struggling to connect with middle-class voters. And about half of voters in each of the three states said presidential candidates should release several years of tax returns (Romney has so far refused to release more than two years of returns amid calls by Democrats and even Republicans for more).
Combined with the surveys last week in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the new state polls paint a portrait of an electorate that has largely made up its mind but sees both candidates as having vulnerabilities — giving each side opportunities to exploit.