Presidential Election 2012: Obama, So Far, Wins with HBS Students

Politics correspondent Clark Peterson gives his opinion on the results of a poll The Harbus offered to EC’s with the help of Surveymonkey.  The results of this quick and dirty data, all of which was collected through the Class of 2013 Facebook group, are shown in the accompanying box.

Super scientific polling of Harvard Business School students conducted by The Harbus regarding the U.S. presidential election revealed that 57% of respondents who are eligible U.S. voters support Democratic President Barack Obama versus 34% for Republican Governor Mitt Romney, with 9% undecided. What lessons, if any, does this poll reveal about the current race for President of the United States?

A few actually. One is that HBS students seem not to care that the challenger in this race, Governor Romne, is a graduate of the program they are currently attending. But, then again, so is George W. Bush.

Nevertheless, 34% is a pretty good showing for Romney among this crowd of one-percenters and overeducated, urban elites. But of course the key to this race isn’t whether Barack Obama can maintain the support of folks who feather exquisite nests in the posh environs of Manhattan and Palo Alto. He’s pretty much set with the jet set.

Victory will go to that candidate who can convince the undecided voter living in suburban Cleveland, who has some college education and makes $50,000 a year, that his or her family will be marginally better off over the next four years under their presidency. Obama totally crushed it with these voters in 2008. The fact that Romney possesses enough mainstream appeal to gain support of over a third of HBS students means his appeal to middle-class, middle-of-the-road voters puts a lot of the ‘burbs in play. We at The Harbus baselessly surmise the McCain-Palin ticket would have fared worse than 34% in 2008.

On the other hand, shouldn’t Romney perform better among HBS students? Romney appears to be the ideal of what 85% of HBS students want to be—in private equity. Seriously though, the guy founded Bain Capital. Made a fortune in business. Managed high-profile projects like the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Raised a large, successful family. And he gives back to the community.  God may have put Romney on Earth just to make HBS students feel downright inferior. What gives?

There are two related things going on here. The first is that, in addition to being an inspiring political figure, and, yes, a historic one, Barack Obama is just a damn likable fellow, particularly to younger voters like HBS students. He seems to get it. He seems to speak the same language. There’s a cultural and generational affinity.

The second has to do not so much with Mitt Romney the person, but Mitt Romney the Republican politician. The Republican brand is badly damaged among many voters whose preferences resemble our HBS sample: independent-minded, younger, upper-middle-class swing voters. To many of these voters, the GOP really puts the Old in Grand Old Party. It’s likely that this Party doesn’t like to party. And boy, the Republican Party is super white. There’s a cultural and generational gap.

The results of The Harbus’s poll illustrate one of Romney’s main challenges, and Obama’s primary advantages, heading into November. It’s the reason, due to growth in Northern Virginian suburbs, that Virginia is, importantly, now a swing state and not lean-Republican. America’s changing generational and demographic makeup, particularly in key states, favors Obama over Romney.