Barack Obama and the White Women Vote—Democrats Just Don't Win That Group

McCain's suddenly doing as well with white women as Bush did—not terribly surprising.

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According to today's Washington Post poll, John McCain has pulled back into a virtual tie with Barack Obama, thanks to a swing among white female voters.

Maybe so (we're just now starting to reach the point of the calendar where polls can be taken seriously), but this represents less a tidal shift than GOP voters coming home. Were Obama to win white women outright this year, he would become only the second Democrat to do so in more than 30 years.

From today's Post:

Much of the shift toward McCain stems from gains among white women, voters his team hoped to sway with the pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate. White women shifted from an eight-point pre-convention edge for Obama to a 12-point McCain advantage now.

In that respect, Palin seems to have done her job. But while women as a whole vote Democratic, white women don't. George W. Bush smoked John Kerry with them in 2004 after edging Al Gore in that group in 2000. He beat the Massachusetts senator by 11 points—or roughly what McCain is beating Obama by at the moment, according to the Post . Bill Clinton won 48 percent of white women in 1996, to Bob Dole's 43 percent, with Ross Perot claiming 8 percent, and he tied George H. W. Bush among the demographic in 1992, with 41 percent each (Perot took 18 percent).

But Clinton's appeal was unique: The elder Bush took 56 percent of white women in 1988, and Ronald Reagan took 62 percent in his 1984 landslide. Reagan won 52 percent to Jimmy Carter's 39 percent (John Anderson pulled 8 percent) in 1980. Gerald Ford won the group in 1976, with 52 percent to Carter's 36.

Palin might have helped McCain in as much as she may have spurred women who were likely to prefer McCain anyway to return to the GOP camp. More broadly, part of the smarts of McCain's acceptance speech was resurrecting the 2000 "maverick" candidate that so appealed to swing voters. By separating himself from the GOP, McCain gave disaffected Republicans—people who didn't want to admit supporting the GOP mess—a reason to come back to the fold.