Obama has wide lead among lower-income voters
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Voting preferences by income group have been fairly well-established since Gallup began tracking the general election on April 11. Obama's lead over Romney among low-income voters has ranged between 13 and 16 percentage points in each of the three-week rolling averages of the vote by demographic group that Gallup has reported since late April. Meanwhile, Romney's edge among middle-income voters has been between four and seven points, and among upper-income voters, between four and six points.
Romney, the wealthy former head of Bain Capital, has slightly greater appeal to the highest-income voters in Gallup's data, those making $180,000 or more in annual income. This group has shown a 53% to 42% preference for Romney since mid-April, compared with 50% to 45% for Romney among those earning between $90,000 and $179,999.
Race a Factor in Obama Support Among Lower-Income Voters
In each of the three major income groups Gallup reports, there are strong racial divides in voting preferences. Non-Hispanic whites and nonwhites show stark differences in their candidate preferences.
In Gallup tracking since April 11, Romney is the leader among whites in all income groups, including those who are lower income. At the same time, Obama has a commanding lead among nonwhites in all income groups.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, nonwhites fall disproportionately into the lower-income group. Nearly half of nonwhites, 49%, report annual household incomes of less than $36,000. And 38% of those in the lower-income group are nonwhite, compared with 22% of those in the middle-income group and 17% in the upper-income group.
Romney Leads Among Middle-Income Independents
Though Romney's edge among middle-income voters is similar to his lead among upper-income voters, in certain subgroups of middle-income voters he performs especially well. That includes middle-income independent voters, who right now prefer Romney by an eight-point margin, 48% to 40%. Obama leads among lower-income independents, and the two are tied among upper-income independents.
Middle-Income Women Divided in Their Vote Choices
Much has been made in this campaign of the gender gap in voter preferences, with Obama faring better among women and Romney among men.
However, there are variations in the vote pattern by gender within income group.
Lower- and upper-income women show solid preferences for Obama. However, middle-income women are much more closely divided, with 48% favoring Obama and 45% Romney.
U.S. voters' 2012 preferences so far align with the perception of the Democratic Party as the party of the poor and the Republican Party as the party of the rich. Obama holds a wide lead among lower-income voters, in large part due to the high concentration of minority voters in this group, while Romney holds a smaller, but significant, edge among upper-income voters.
During the campaign, both presidential candidates will do their best to convince middle-income voters that their policies will be more beneficial to the middle class. So far, middle-income voters are more likely to support Romney than Obama. And within the middle-income group, Romney is running stronger among political independents and is competitive with Obama among middle-income women.
It will be especially important for Obama to improve his standing among middle-income voters because his large advantage among lower-income voters is offset to a degree by their lower level of voting participation. Gallup's tracking data show that an average of 69% of lower-income voters say they will "definitely" vote in the election this fall, compared with 83% of middle-income voters and 87% of upper-income voters.