At the Wire: Two New Polls and an Obama Advantage in Patchwork Nation

As we have often noted here at Patchwork Nation, when you look at national elections at the county level it’s not usually about different types of communities swinging from one party to the other, it’s about changes in margins of support. As Election Day 2012 arrives that appears to be as true as ever.

A Patchwork Nation analysis of two new surveys, coming in just before the polls open, finds complete agreement about which presidential candidate is going to win in each of our 12 county/community types. The differences in the numbers, from the Pew Research Center and the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, are in the margins. Some of those differences are big, but the end result of both seems to be the same, an edge to President Barack Obama.

To be clear the numbers are not the same. Mr. Obama seems to be in better shape with the Pew figures – nationally he leads in that poll by 3 points and that lead manifests itself in the crucial Monied Burbs in their data. And Mr. Romney seems to be in spitting distance of winning in the WSJ/NBC numbers – thanks to a tighter race in the Burbs and better margins in some other key communities.

But if the margins that either poll has found in the Patchwork Nation types are right, Mr. Obama has the advantage as the Election Day machinery kicks into gear.

The Pew Patchwork Scenario

The Pew poll numbers, an analysis of a survey of 2,700 likely voters released on Sunday, show a big shift toward the president in the wealthy, suburban Monied Burbs, 54% - 42%. That’s a 12-point lead for Mr. Obama in these 286 counties that hold about 70 million people. The margin is even better than Mr. Obama’s 10-point margin four years ago and if it is correct, Mr. Romney’s path to victory becomes almost impossibly steep.

Pew Research Center poll

Community Type

Obama

Romney

Margin

Monied 'Burbs

54%

42%

+12 O

Minority Central

45%

48%

+3 R

Evang. Epicenters

27%

62%

+35 R

Tractor Country

N/A

N/A

N/A

Campus & Careers

53%

36%

+17 O

Immigration Nation

38%

52%

+14 R

Industrial Metros

63%

30%

+33 O

Boom Towns

44%

49%

+5 R

Service Workers

40%

50%

+10 R

Emptying Nests

43%

52%

+9 R

Military Bastions

42%

52%

+10 R

Mormon Outposts

N/A

N/A

N/A

 N/A denotes sample too small to report

To overcome a 12-point gap in the Burbs, Mr. Romney would need to win by enormous margins in the Patchwork Nation county types that favor him – especially the most populous ones, the small-town Service Worker Centers, the more exurban Boom Towns and the aging Emptying Nests.

He’s doing well in those counties in this poll – even in the Emptying Nests, which is a turnaround for him – winning them by between 5 and 10 points. But it’s not enough to overcome Mr. Obama’s Monied Burb edge along with the expected Democratic advantage in the big city Industrial Metropolis counties and the collegiate Campus and Career counties – 33 points and 17 points respectively.

In fact, the reason Mr. Romney is even close in this poll are the numbers out of the heavily Hispanic Immigration Nation counties. He leads there 52% - 38%. That’s a huge GOP margin to come from those places, especially considering the tensions between the Republican Party and Hispanic voters in recent elections and it may be a result of the specific sample. In these counties only 16% of the likely voter sample was Hispanic in this analysis, that's low for these places.

The WSJ/NBC Patchwork Scenario

The view through the prism of the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, a survey of 2,200 likely voters in October and November, shows a more closely divided electorate. But Mr. Obama holds an edge thanks in part to support in the Burbs.

The WSJ/NBC numbers show Mr. Obama with a 5-point lead in Monied Burbs – 50% to 45% for Mr. Romney. That edge is not massive, but it’s bigger than Vice President Al Gore’s win in the Burbs in 2000 or Sen. John Kerry’s in 2004. And combined with Mr. Obama’s big leads in the Industrial Metropolis and Campus and Careers counties, it’s enough to give the democrat a slight edge overall.

Wall Street Journal/ NBC poll

Community Type

Obama

Romney

Margin

Monied 'Burbs

50%

45%

+5 O

Minority Central

44%

52%

+8 R

Evang. Epicenters

30%

66%

+36 R

Tractor Country

N/A

N/A

N/A

Campus & Careers

53%

42%

+11 O

Immigration Nation

46%

49%

+3 R

Industrial Metros

62%

31%

+31 O

Boom Towns

44%

51%

+7 R

Service Workers

40%

57%

+17 R

Emptying Nests

43%

52%

+9 R

Military Bastions

N/A

N/A

N/A

Mormon Outposts

N/A

N/A

N/A

 N/A denotes sample too small to report

Mr. Romney is doing well in some important places for him in this poll, like the Emptying Nests, and very well in some others like, the Service Worker Center and Evangelical Epicenter counties, where he has run up double-digit leads. But he’s hurt by the numbers in couple of key areas.

Mr. Romney’s seven-point lead in the Boom Towns is nowhere near the huge 17-point margin George W. Bush ran up in those counties in his winning 2004 campaign. And similarly Mr. Romney’s three-point margin in Immigration Nation, is holding him back.

The Differences and Similarities

There are some real differences in these two polls, but they are in some ways telling a similar story. The 2012 election is almost certain to closer than 2008 because, as many polls have noted, Mr. Obama is getting less support from white voters.

The Pew survey seems to see that loss in the less wealthy Evangelical Epicenters, Service Worker Centers and even in Immigration Nation. (There are actually more whites than Hispanics in Immigration Nation, those places just tend to hold large Hispanic populations compared to the national average.) But it also sees Mr. Obama holding onto his lead in largely white the Monied Burbs and doing fairly well in the Boom Towns, which are also fairly well-off financially and mostly white.

The race divide it sees, in other words, is one that also falls along income lines and urban/rural lines. Mr. Obama seems to do better in wealthier white communities near cities.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC survey seems to show more of a straight break along racial lines, with Mr. Obama losing much of the advantage he had in the Monied Burbs four years ago. But the WSJ/NBC poll also shows a clear income and urban/rural divide on race, note the huge lead for Mr. Romney in the overwhelmingly white Service Worker counties, which have lower-than-average median household incomes and are much more rural.

It’s a question of degree. In both polls less-wealthy, more-rural places with many white voters are more inclined to back Mr. Romney. It’s about where one draws the line for wealth and the urban/rural divide.

Much has been made of how turnout will play a big role in the outcome of 2012. The WSJ/NBC numbers suggest that’s true and Tuesday could be a long night for those who want to see a winner. If the Pew numbers are correct turnout may matter less and the night may be over sooner.

If you want an idea of which way the night is going to go keep an eye on Virginia. It’s polls close at 7 pm and it is full of those Monied Burbs and Boom Towns. If we know who won it before, say, 10 p.m., the Pew numbers are probably closer to the actual results. If not, the WSJ/NBC numbers will be closer and we will be in for a long night. We'll be following the election live tonight with real-time results broken into our 12 Patchwork Nation types tonight at WNYC.org. Please click by and follow along.