Obama wins a second term
First of all – sorry for the delay in this post. Partly, it was deliberate; I wanted to take some time to collect my thoughts a couple of weeks after the election result, once all the immediate emotion and impact of the victory had drained away, and partly, I got swept up a bit in everyday life following the free time not being an all-consuming politico created.
Not to sound smug, but for 2% in Florida, I got my prediction spot on. Looks like Nate Silver and the model of analysing collective over singular polls will be with us for quite a while yet. The first thing to draw from the election result is that, as Rachel Maddow says, “doing math” works. Political instinct – the arbiter of the old guard, the indistinct wisdom political hacks and seasoned reporters point toward when trying to explain their views on the election, has given way to the science of the states – the aggregation of collective polling and the mathematical realities of the ground. From the unpredictability associated with the 2000 campaign, from now on a new rule is likely to hold sway – that if the polls say it is so, then it’s damned likely they’re telling the truth, and new, smarter pollsters such as Silver are likely to have a much more influential role going forward. This is likely to have quite a few consequences.
First of all, the more these models’ veracity is proven by continued success, the less fun it becomes. Now we know the 2012 race was not really at all that unpredictable, it seems a lot less interesting in hindsight then it did at the time. Now Silver’s model has been proven twice in a row, the influence of his polling increases. If, in 2016, it demonstrates a clear advantage either way, then it is likely to leave election speculation more muted then it is today – and that is likely to have a poor effect, eventually, on democratic engagement. If polls seem immovable, then it is likely people won’t show up to try to move them.
Secondly, it disproportionately gives power to the pollsters. Whilst the rallying cry for the GOP against Silver was accusations of a liberal bias, which was subsequently proven false by the math, there is an element that now Silver has re-asserted his credibility, his and similar models could be used to create either bandwagon - the momentum seems to go with one challenger and so the public jump on board – or boomerang – the public see a surge for one candidate and so vote for the underdog – effects in the future. The following is a hunch, and has no basis in anything other than that messiest of arbiters, instinct – but I suspect the American public won’t like their elections pre-determined, and that at some point in upcoming elections, a massive boomerang effect will occur. Might take years, decades even, but it will.
That’s the polls. Now for the politics.
Simply put: the election result is a massive vindication of President Obama, a slight victory for the Democratic Party, a warning for the Republicans – but not quite the end of the world for them it’s being portrayed as.
A vindication for the President
From birth in Hawaii, to journeys across Indonesia as a child and Kenya as an adult, from corporate worker to community organiser, to lawyer to politician, Barack Obama’s life has been extraordinary. He has achieved, throughout his first term, many things that have eluded previous Presidencies; the passing of universal healthcare; which is now likely here to stay; the assassination of Osama bin Laden; two Supreme Court appointments; a slight reduction in unemployment and economic stabilisation (to a point); the ending of the War in Iraq and drawing down of US involvement in Afghanistan; the beginning of female pay equality and the end of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”, and he has done so with, poise, elegance, unmatchable rhetorical ability and persuasion, and has restored credibility to his office. He has not been perfect; poor management of the debt ceiling fiasco led to his country’s credit rating being downgraded, and he has failed to tackle climate change seriously as well as only making superficial headway on immigration – something he hopes to correct in term two – but often this has been in the face of Republican intransigence. Whilst congress’ approval lies in the doldrums, President Obama has once again convinced a majority of the American people that they trust him to get the job done when it comes to what is best for the country. I personally believe this is down to the record and excellence of the candidate – I do not think any democrat could have won this election. President Obama can quite rightly feel this victory as a personal vindication of his public service.
A slight victory for Democrats
Following the ‘shellacking’ of 2010, 2012 bore out some crucial and heartening victories for democrats – and frankly, for Americans. Both candidates to treat rape lightly, Mourdock and Akin, were defeated, and Elizabeth Warren reversed the extraordinary blue-red swap following Ted Kennedy’s death in Massachusetts. Scott Brown, despite his best efforts, is out of office. Several states passed laws allowing gay marriage, the GOP failed to gain Senate control, and, albeit only by a handful of seats, Dems cut into the Republican House Majority. This carries sway, with the President’s slight lead in the popular vote, into an argument that Washington’s mandate now carries more of a blue than a red tinge.
But it is only slight. The Democrats did not take the House back, or even seriously diminish the GOP majority. They only marginally increased the Senate majority, and the President’s popular vote share was only 3-4 percentage points above Romney’s. There is no sweeping mandate ala 2008 for a Democrat agenda. What there is, is a demand from the American public for congress to stop the intransigence that has stopped progress for months. Arguably, there is, following the Presidential victory and slight Senate gains, an argument for that progress to be slightly more blue then red. But the message is simple – President Obama promised bipartisanship. Now’s the time to get on with it and get to work. In one of the most vitriolic campaigns in recent history, the American people demanded consensus.
A warning for Republicans
Sarah Palin, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann: yours is not the future. If Moderate Mitt cannot be elected over fears of his extremity, then learn this: you definitely won’t. The GOP has already signalled moves towards a more centrist position – Mitt’s complaint, just a week or so after being defeated, that Obama won because he offered ‘gifts’ to minorities, has been widely decried and denounced – and a host of young and moderate candidates are stepping up; Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, to name a few. There seems to be a genuine tilt towards winning over minorities rather than alienating them – and this bodes well for Obama’s hopes of second-term immigration reform. But if the GOP throws its toys out of the pram again, if it tries to please the base over the centrist voters in the country, it can expect to lose again – big. If the 2012 mandate was a mandate for consensus and bipartisanship, you had better believe that if either party fails to live up to that spirit to reach for progress, they will suffer at the next elections.
Not the end of the World for the GOP
At the end of the day, Mitt Romney lost the election by just over three percentage points. That’s a better showing than John McCain had, and if the next GOP contended has a similar increase, it’ll be a dead heat in the national vote. The Republicans control the House and are within a shout of taking the Senate in two years, and have a host of up-and-coming aspirants ready for office. Alongside Hillary Clinton, Julian Castro, and Ted Strickland on the blue side are Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley and Susana Martinez on the red – all young, driven, and representative of minorities, fast becoming some of the determining demographics in national US elections.
2016 will be a different story. Hillary is the Democrats’ biggest candidate, and she might not even run – and will be 69 if she does. Beneath her are a host of not-too-enticing candidates who may not be able to match up to the new generation of Republicans that are eager, hungry, and passionate to change their party and the country. We don’t know yet who will even run in four years, let alone win – but one thing is for sure. I would be very surprised if the electoral map – and the shape of both parties – looked the same in four years time.
Them’s the lessons I draw. One final thing to say – covering this election in this way has been interesting, fun and a great challenge. Though only a few people may have read this, I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Thanks for stopping by and enjoying 2012 with me. Over the next few years, I hope to cover US government in Washington in a more general way, after having a bit of a break, and the Loo Review and Tigheland will be updated often. But thanks for being on the ride. It’s been fun, so far.