National perspectives on Pennsylvania presidential politics -- especially around Pittsburgh -- always come back to discussions over white working class voters, even though readers of Early Returns surely know better than that by now.
The voter bloc is important but it's not the only factor, especially in the changing landscape of Western Pa. The voters have become reliably Republican in recent cycles (voting against Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama) and the challenge for Democrats this year is to make sure they don't get absolutely trounced by the demographic, and for Republicans to repeat their 2010 success with it. John McCain had a comfy 15-point edge with white working class voters in 2008, but that margin doubled for the GOP during the midterms.
Reuters released a major new rust belt poll today surveying working class voters in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and parts of New York and Pennsylvania. It finds that Mitt Romney has a nice 44-30 edge over Obama with the demographic, which is OK (and tracks McCain's edge) but nowhere near the 2010 spread. If Romney's margin stays in that range -- with voters feeling blah about both candidates, and perhaps their enthusiasm damped by the Obama camp's attack ads -- that's a win for Democrats.
The news org datelined the poll story from an old mill outside Cleveland that is hiring again, in part due steel orders from the bailed-out auto industry:
Two years ago the midterm elections marked a landslide. Hammered by the recession and revved up by the Tea Party, white working-class voters - men and women without college degrees who earn middle-income wages - swung Republican by a stunning 30 points across the country.
For many, change hasn't come fast enough, dampening hope. They remain impatient for prosperity.
In Ohio, these voters, who make up more than half of the electorate, are showing little enthusiasm for either the president or Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee.
. . . Amid these conflicting scenarios, a swath of blue-collar voters remains angry, anxious and undecided. Many supported former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, the grandson of a coal miner, in Ohio's Republican primary, which Romney won by less than a percentage point.
In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, fewer than a fifth of manufacturing workers approve of Obama's overall job performance, with almost 40 percent expressing "mixed feelings."
The full results have a lot more, and show the GOP may have a path to reaching blue collars via illegal immigration and gun issues, where the voters are markedly more conservative than other voters.