US election: A vote for the status quo

 
President Obama acknowledging the crowds at his victory speech in Chicago

After the longest and most expensive election campaign any democracy has ever seen, President Barack Obama was re-elected, albeit by a narrower margin than he received four years ago.

Despite America's weak economy, high unemployment and partisan rancour, voters returned incumbents to office in the White House and Congress, kept the same the balance of party power in Congress, and squarely embraced the status quo.

President Obama won re-election with unemployment at 7.9% - the highest any incumbent seeking re-election has faced since Franklin D Roosevelt.

And no incumbent since Roosevelt has held onto office amidst such a bad economy - not Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter or George Bush Sr.

Bucking the tides of history, however, is not the same as earning the kind of mandate that will intimidate the opposition party.

The final popular vote is not in yet, but it appears Mr Obama will have just a minute margin over Mr Romney.

The president will again face a Republican House of Representatives, though he will have a few more Democratic senators to help him.

332
Barack Obama
206
Mitt Romney
  • California 55
  • Colorado 9
  • Connecticut 7
  • District of Colombria 3
  • Delaware 3
  • Florida 29
  • Hawaii 4
  • Iowa 6
  • Illinois 20
  • Massachusetts 11
  • Maryland 10
  • Maine 4
  • Michigan 16
  • Minnesota 10
  • Nebraska 0
  • New Hampshire 4
  • New Jersey 14
  • New Mexico 5
  • Nevada 6
  • New York 29
  • Ohio 18
  • Oregon 7
  • Pennsylvania 20
  • Rhode Island 4
  • Virginia 13
  • Vermont 3
  • Washington 12
  • Wisconsin 10
  • Alaska 3
  • Alabama 9
  • Arkansas 6
  • Arizona 11
  • Georgia 16
  • Idaho 4
  • Indiana 11
  • Kansas 6
  • Kentucky 8
  • Louisiana 8
  • Maine 0
  • Missouri 10
  • Mississippi 6
  • Montana 3
  • North Carolina 15
  • North Dakota 3
  • Nebraska 5
  • Oklahoma 7
  • South Carolina 9
  • South Dakota 3
  • Tennessee 11
  • Texas 38
  • Utah 6
  • West Virginia 5
  • Wyoming 3

Gridlock and intense partisanship may well be part of the status quo that endures in President Obama's second term.

That will depend partly on how the Republicans in Congress read the election results.

Will they see a weakened president, who squeaked through, and thus carry on with their aggressive, uncompromising opposition?

Or will Republicans be more concerned with their own losses and steer toward a more traditional, conciliatory and co-operative posture in Congress?

Their internal battles between party factions will be as intense as the campaign that just finished.

The Obama White House faces a similar strategic choice, but with a more united party behind him.

A "fiscal cliff" is looming - a difficult coincidence of expiring tax breaks and federal spending cuts.

Will the president spend his freshly-earned political capital trying to navigate a grand compromise to avoid the "fiscal cliff" and work for negotiated, bi-partisan legislation to govern the country's debt, deficit and spending laws over the next several years?

A delighted Obama supporter watches the results in New York

Or will the White House take a more piecemeal approach, negotiating something small-bore to deal with the "fiscal cliff" elements, but not a grander fiscal blueprint?

A second term does ensure that the hallmark achievement of Mr Obama's first term - Obamacare - will not be repealed.

To the contrary, the president will have four years to tinker with the programme, improve it and institutionalise it.

The success of his healthcare reform programme may not have been an obvious asset in the 2012 campaign, but it is likely to be an enduring accomplishment of his presidency.

Mr Obama will also have the opportunity to influence the Supreme Court long after he leaves office.

The key there is Justice Anthony Kennedy, 75, a Republican appointee who has been the key swing vote on the court. If Justice Kennedy retires, Mr Obama will be able to make an appointment that could give liberals - or at least judges appointed by Democrats - a majority on the court for a decade or more.

Start Quote

The negativity and lying that marked this campaign wasn't a new low for American politics. It was a very old-style low, but with new volume”

End Quote
Foreign challenges

It is unlikely there will be any major course changes on foreign policy. Anti-terrorism will remain the highest of priorities, the military draw-down in Afghanistan will continue, and there are no indications of a more interventionist policy in Syria.

Barring a strike by Israel on Iran, the US seems set to continue its policy of sanctions and international pressure.

The fate of other issues potentially high on Mr Obama's second term agenda is more unpredictable.

The administration could well make the contentious issues of immigration reform, climate change and financial regulation priorities, for example.

And Republicans could fight Democratic initiatives with all their might.

"There's nothing in the closeness of the popular vote or the minimal change in House seats that would suggest the Republicans will feel any need to alter their oppositional stance," said Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina.

Or they could change course and join hands.

If there is any impetus for a spasm of Republican bipartisanship, it could come from a reading of the exit polls and demographic trends.

Women once again voted heavily for Mr Obama by a margin of 55% to 43%. The female tilt toward the Democrats is now deeply etched in presidential elections.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan campaigning together with fireworks going off behind them They fought a hard campaign, but there were no fireworks on the night

Non-white voters broke for Mr Obama overwhelmingly. And that population is growing by roughly 2% every four years; the white population is shrinking by roughly 2% every four years.

"The demographics race we're losing badly," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told The Washington Post this summer, in a moment of candour. "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long-term," he said.

Republican shift to right

The Republican Party has deep and emotional divisions, as the Democrats did throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

The Tea Party might have lost some supporters in the House, but they remain potent in the party's primaries, driving the Republicans to the right. The few remaining self-described moderate Republicans have left the Senate, so that centrist pull is gone.

Start Quote

No-one is fair to President Obama... But his innate ability justifies that high standard”

End Quote David Brooks Columnist

Republicans are not without advantages. They remain the party of business and raise more money than Democrats.

And Republicans again did better with white voters - the biggest block on the board. They have an attractive, younger group of politicians with some national reputation, led by Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan.

As for Mr Romney, his campaign was methodically organised and well-financed, but he never quite overcame the perception that he was an opportunist without principled political spine.

His own spokesman seemed to prove that point after the primaries, where Mr Romney ran as a hard conservative.

"Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign," Eric Fehrnstrom said. "Everything changes. It's almost like an etch-a-sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."

The etch-a-sketching didn't work. The image of Mr Romney as an extremely wealthy man out of touch with real life in America hardened after a recording emerged of him saying 47% of Americans were, in essence, freeloaders.

On election day, the 72% of voters who earn less than $100,000 a year (£60,000) decisively rejected Mr Romney.

Obama at a campaign rally in Denver in August 2012, with a big banner saying "women's health security" Obama will get a chance to defend, even tinker with, his healthcare programme

His ads and his stump speech were infamous - even by the low standards of modern American campaigns - for stretching, or ignoring, the truth. "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," said Neil Newhouse, a Romney pollster. They didn't.

Dollar-fuelled politics

Tough campaigns lead to calls for tough political reforms. And 2012 was a very tough campaign, partly because of its length and the money involved - an estimated $2.6bn (£1.6bn) - mostly spent on TV ads.

Within days of the 2010 mid-term elections, presidential campaigns commenced.

Then an important Supreme Court removed almost all remaining limits on campaign fundraising and spending. Voters were bombarded by TV ads, robo-calls and social media messages, for months and months.

The tenor and tone of political propaganda this year fit the early years of the country, when parties and partisans controlled the newspapers and pamphleteers.

Start Quote

Free of the burden of facing re-election, Mr Obama could be a very different leader in his second term”

End Quote

The negativity and lying that marked this campaign was not a new low for American politics. It was a very old-style low, but with new volume, thanks to new technology - and billions of dollars.

There will certainly be a move for election reform. It will be interesting to see if President Obama leads that effort.

In 2008, Mr Obama was something of a Rorschach test for his supporters - a vessel for hopes, ideals and aspirations. His election as America's first black president was an emotional, prideful moment for the country.

But his first term was dogged by the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.

Healthcare reform may well be the most consequential legislative action since the Great Society in the 1960s. But voters remain divided over it.

Mr Obama's Republican opponents fought him every step. Throughout the campaign year, Mr Obama appeared to lack the stature his accomplishments might seem to demand.

"No-one is fair to President Obama," the conservative columnist David Brooks wrote last week.

"People grade him against tougher standards than any other politician. But his innate ability justifies that high standard," he said.

Tested and tempered by four years in office, the worst of the economic crisis behind him, and free of the burden of facing re-election, Mr Obama could be a very different leader in his second term.

But the Washington he must operate in is very much unchanged by the results of the 2012 elections.

 

More on This Story

US Presidential Election 2012

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 105.

    The Republican Party now consists of a mismatch of very rich people, old white people, the southern poor, evangelicals, extreme Catholics and Libertarians. They have little in common but their fear and dislike of their perceived enemies. ‘A house divide’ somewhat reminiscent of the British Labor Party circa 1984.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 104.

    Goforlin, after all the death threats against Obama 4 yrs ago, and all the violent words and demonstrations, plus wild accusations against Obama as if he was a Nazi, you state Obama is venting hate????? Please, know what you're talking about before spewing gibberish.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 103.

    The Republicans are dividing the electorate with comments such as the 47%. The electorate in the US is changing and they are getting left behind.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 102.

    100 comments and about 98% all of the same view. Just like the German general election result in 1936...

    A choice of only two (poor) candidates is bad enough, but reducing it to a choice of one?!?

    I guess alternative viewpoints aren't allowed any more...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 101.

    This seems to hit the stops on the US election. But along the way comes this claim that Climate Change is a "contentious issue".
    By now the data are in. Be it for some expected noise, the increase in CO2 and subsequent rise in global temperature clearly point out we're not dealing with natural circumstances but rather nature's demise due to our bad behavior.
    Don't negate GW, instead combat it.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 100.

    Facts are Obama got less votes then Bush in 2004, allot less.

    He ran on hate and division and turned off 7 million of his own poeple.

    Romney was a poor choice and got 7 million votes less then McCain.

    Both Obama and Romney were major turn offs to all Americans.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 99.

    Romney appeared on the UK news for a day. In that time he managed to seriously get me annoyed. I followed his election campaign from that day onwards and would say that he and the Republican Party are a reflection of the 70s. Wonder why young people, women and ethnic Americans voted Democrat. Obama may not have delivered but ask why the Republican's were not elected on his perceived failures!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 98.

    This is the death knell for the Tea Party... and not a moment too soon.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 97.

    I am not an American, but breathe a sigh of relief that a moderate (Conservative) has control of the title 'global police marshal' at a time of a Middle East crisis. Obama - Republicans will block any good you have tried or could achieve. Americans - you stopped a bad child with autistic traits having control of nuclear weapons and an upcoming world crisis. Well done and good economic luck!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 96.

    Obama's biggest accomplishment so far in his presidency is his ability to avoid involvement in another expensive conflict/war, and continue to draw down on Iraq and Afghanistan. This enable the economy to heal itself from the 2008-09 financial meltdown left on his desk by Bush and the Republican Party. His economic policy, at best, has only minimal effect on the recovery.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 95.

    And common sense has prevailed. Well done America.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 94.

    The Republicans have a very winnable contest and blew it. They can blame Romney, but he is just the product of the party he belongs to.

    The Republicans can continue to "blame" the other 51% who voted for Obama for their defeat, or try to get their message through and reach out to the women and minorities. Otherwise, they will meet with the same fate in 2016.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 93.

    I think This is Barak Obama's deserved victory. With presidental positon, He'll keep trying to remain peaceful in the world.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 92.

    If the Republicans dont choose moderate candidates they are doomed. The Tea party views on gay marriage, abortion, healthcare etc is a prime reason for Romney's defeat by dragging the party to an extreme on the righthe right,making them unelectable nationally .The Dems learned that in the 1970s from the left. Now its the Republicans' turn, just as it was when FDR and Truman were presidents

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 91.

    Obam won on the shoulders of those earnign less than $100,000! that includes many of us who don't choose to rip off as many as possible for as much as possible, who believe is social responsibility, who want Obama to give healthcare to everyone, and share the wealth of America not allow the wealth created by the many to be taken by the few. Mark Mardell: GO HOME YOU CLOSET CONSERVATIVE

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 90.

    Unlike in 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election, Barak Obama has won both an Electoral College majority and a majority of the popular vote.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 89.

    What a screwed up electoral system. We need election reform to abolish the electoral system and require a decision based on the popular vote. It's absolutely wrong that a small handful of states should decide the election. Someone who garners ~50% of the popular vote should not win/lose by 1/3rd of the electoral college vote.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 88.

    The only recourse left for Americans who recognize Obamacare as a vulgar violation of their rights is active obstruction and civil disobedience. Despite Obama and the Senate, further court challenges are possible, and a 2/3rd vote by states could erase it. Also, to protect individuals and businesses, funding could be gutted by making waivers universally available, not just to Obama's cronies.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 87.

    Do readers here really believe that the two candidates and parties are that different? Have you researched who provides the contributions to each party? Many are the same major corporations and wealthy families that give to BOTH parties. These are the parties' "employers" (stakeholders), and thus the parties do not truly answer to the People of the United states of America. What say you?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 86.

    73. Paulvanp You must have read my mind, that is exactly right. Spot on.

 

Page 1 of 6

 

More US & Canada stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.