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Why Ohio's White Working Class Is Tough For Obama

Mark Blumenthal has an interesting post comparing the demographics of Wisconsin and Ohio, which look pretty similar. That may be a little surprising given that Obama crushed Hillary in Wisconsin, but faces a persistent (if shrinking) deficit in Ohio.

The explanation, Mark writes:

appears to stem mostly from [Hillary's] continuing strength among Ohio's downscale white Democrats. In Wisconsin, as noted above, Obama ran slightly ahead of Clinton among less-educated white voters. However, in both the Quinnipiac poll conducted two weeks ago and the ABC/Washington Post poll done earlier this week, Clinton continues to hold an enormous lead among less-educated white voters. Obama's better overall performance on the more recent ABC/Post survey results mostly from a stronger showing among African-Americans and college educated whites (and perhaps from the typically smaller undecided percentage that by the ABC/Post survey).

Some of Obama's Wisconsin success owes to the larger proportion of non-Democrats there. However, a roughly 10-point difference in the independent percentage alone cannot explain the more than 20 point difference in preference for Obama. Consider this: If Ohio's demographic composition from 2004 holds, if Obama and Clinton win their usual margins among black and Latino voters, and if Obama defeats Clinton by 10 points among college educated whites, he can win Ohio by cutting Clinton's lead among less-educated whites to 20 points.

Given the exit poll numbers from Wisconsin, that result does not seem far-fetched. What do you think? Is that result a real possibility? And putting the hypotheticals aside, why does Clinton run stronger in Ohio than in Wisconsin among downscale whites? Can she maintain that advantage through March 2?

I think the second-to-last question is the most interesting one--about the difference between downscale whites in the two states. I guess it's possible that white, working-class Ohioans will come around by next Tuesday. But I doubt it--certainly not the way they did in Wisconsin.

My own theory has to do with cultural differences between the upper Midwest (Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota) and the Rust Belt (Ohio, southeastern Michigan, western New York and Pennsylvania): I think working-class whites in the upper Midwest are much more progressive on race than their Rust Belt counterparts. I'm not entirely sure why that is--I suspect it has something to do with the far smaller African-American population in the former, and, relatedly, maybe a history of racially-tinged labor/urban unrest in the latter--but I'd guess this explains a big chunk of what we're seeing. (Any sociologists or historians with some expertise on this should feel free to weigh in.)

The one data point I'd cite is that Obama did much worse among white Catholics in Maryland than in Virginia, even though people expected Maryland to be more hospitable to him overall. I suspect a lot of those white Catholics were working-class people living in or near Baltimore, a declining industrial city that probably looks more like the Rust Belt than any place that's voted so far (other than Detroit and western New York, but Hillary obviously had huge advantages there).

Northern New Jersey, the outer boroughs of New York City, and some of the urban parts of New England, have some similar features.

--Noam Scheiber