Will UK politicians read too much into how Obama won?

 
President Barack Obama waves as he walks on stage with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha at his election night party in Chicago President Barack Obama waves as he walks on stage with his wife Michelle and daughters

Ah, the ecstasy of a US election! The anticipation of the primaries, the admiration of the long campaign, the envy of the zillions being spent, the thrill of the attack ads, the excitement of the exuberant conventions, the sheer joy of the fight! Never let it be said that the world of Westminster does not get aroused by the democratic process on the other side of the water.

Elections may come and go in Europe but they disappear, largely ignored by the denizens of London SW1. As for American polls: well, wow! We just cannot get enough of them. Today we are all experts in the psephology of Ohio. Who cares of Corby when you have Colorado?

And now that President Obama has won, prepare yourself for a torrent of analysis about what this means for British politics. The read-across in policy, the campaign techniques to copy, the lessons to be learned for 2015.

A word of warning. Much of that analysis will be balls. We have a different electoral system, we have a different political system, we have a different demographic, we have less money. We do our politics our way. Yes, there are clearly some lessons we can learn. But too much will be read into the tea leaves of Obama's victory. As we know, it is always hard to find a good cup of tea stateside.

But with that proviso in mind, it is worth attempting a few cautious conclusions:

Something for everyone: The Tories say Obama and David Cameron are on the same strategic page. They are both slowly turning around a sickly economy, they are both blaming their predecessors for the mess, they both share the same rhetoric of being all in this together. But equally Labour say that Obama is echoing much of Ed Miliband's message of One Nation politics, bringing the people together, creating a fairer economy, the many not the few and so on. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Incumbency: David Cameron and Nick Clegg may be encouraged by the idea that incumbents can win despite economic gloom. Unlike leaders in Italy, France, Greece, Ireland and elsewhere, Obama has bucked the trend and won even though he has 8 per cent unemployment. But note this: Obama just had to win back disillusioned supporters who had voted for him in 2008. If Mr Cameron wants to win a majority, he has the extra challenge of persuading people who voted against him in 2010 to vote for him in 2015. If people chose Gordon Brown over Mr Cameron two years ago, how much harder will it be to persuade them to vote Conservative next time? Some in Labour think the lesson from this election is that incumbency is not the safety blanket it once was. They note that Obama was almost pipped to the post by what many saw as quite an average Republican candidate.

Austerity: Ed Miliband will be encouraged that a leader who has spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to stimulate his economy can win an election. He will be further interested in how the draconian cuts due in the US next year - known as the "fiscal cliff" - will impact on the argument for austerity. Expect lots of claims from Labour about how US spending cuts risk contracting an economy that is vital for British exports.

Debates: Television debates can make a difference. They are focal points when many voters engage in an election for the first time. Performances can defy expectations and inject momentum. Yes, their importance can be exaggerated. But Mitt Romney's comparative success against a lacklustre Obama in the first debate gave his campaign an undoubted boost.

Unenthusiasm: The US electorate did not appear to be hugely enthused by either candidate or their campaigns. Many voters appear to have seen the election as a choice between the least bad options. The same may be true for British voters in 2015. One lesson for politicians here may be how to be the lesser of two evils rather than the great hope for the future. How much appetite will there be among voters for hyperbolic ambition and rhetoric? The key test for both Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband is how to frame a message that is optimistic yet realistic at the same time. We have just seen how hard it was for such a competent politician as Obama.

Demographics: Sectors of society matter in elections. One lesson from the US is that political parties have to do more to target women, ethnic minorities, young voters, older votes and so on. At the very least they cannot ignore them. The Republicans clearly did not do well enough among women and Latinos and others. That factor will play into the internal Conservative debate about how Mr Cameron should appeal to those who did not vote for him in 2008.

Division: Divided parties do less well in elections. Many Republicans appeared to doubt that Mitt Romney was the right candidate for their party. He appeared to swing between appealing to his party's core to appealing to its more moderate supporters. Conservative MPs keen on fighting their party leader over Europe might wonder if voters see division first and the issue second. Many observers in the US have said that Romney's campaign became competitive the moment he appealed to the centre, when he took his message to independent voters in the mid-west.

Personalities: Negative campaigning only gets you so far. Obama vigorously targeted Mitt Romney's reputation. And yet once the Republican candidate got to his feet in the television debates, many Americans appeared to be pleasantly surprised that he did not have horns and a forked tail. He came across as reasonable. There is a danger of trying to demonise a candidate if the nation thinks otherwise. Nota bene all those Tories hoping to portray Ed Miliband as odd. Voters will make up their own minds and there is a risk in exaggerating perceived negatives.

Terrorism: If you can send a team of special forces to foreign parts to assassinate a global terrorist leader in the year before your election, it will do you no harm. Might not be an option open to David Cameron but worth bearing in mind. But don't mess it up. Jimmy Carter sent helicopters in to rescue US hostages in Iran, and look where that got him.

 
James Landale Article written by James Landale James Landale Deputy political editor

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 16.

    Should we care? No, not really. It won't affect us economically as much as what happens in Europe. It won't impact our politics over here either. In fact, the people who really care about this are the people whose job it is to follow the media, and they are too lazy to follow anything but the American newswires. News editors just do what's easiest. .

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 15.

    It would be nice if Cameron remove the phrase that he wakes up to every morning 'we inherited it' from the previous Government, and 'it wasney me' instead he should showing the electorate the changes that this coalition have made whilst in office, but he cant because he is like the ecomy 'facing the wrong direction' Numpties.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 14.

    The impact to the UK wasn't reflected by the BBC's day after day saturated coverage as the main "It's neck & neck", "Too close too call" news item. If something happens in the UK outside London we hear from our solitary north of England correspondent but for 2 weeks of the US election we get all these BBC staff. What insight into the final outcome did we get? This juggernaut of output was a waste.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 13.

    What does this mean for British Politics ? Well the 99% will be giving their money and efforts to the 1%.

    This will be the same no matter who wins, the entire framework of our society and economy and newsmedia is designed to continue this way.

    The main purpose of the drama of this election is to make you forget for a few months, your slavery.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 12.

    I quite liked the election coverage last night. The simple fact is that the USA is a superpower. At the moment, it is the only superpower. What happens there affects us all. The elections in Spain, France, India, Australia etc affect us far far less. Beside...no one forces you to use the BBC news.For example, Al Jazeera wasn't focused on the election...could've switched to that.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 11.

    In these days when money is tight not only do we have more than 50% of each news programme dedicated to the US election they then pay with our money to send a different presenter (no doubt business class) for each programme to say and report exactly the same words as they could do from this country. What a waste!!

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 10.

    I am very much pro America and am also proud of the contribution the BBC gives the world. However I seriously question the neutral stance of the news. Storm that occur in USA would not get the same coverage if it were Spain or Asia. European politics hardly gets mentioned. I now prefer the output of others news networks such as Al Jazeera.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 9.

    One of the other big differences between the USA and here is the undemocratic nature of the EU institutions. Leadership changes in EU member states can have a serious impact here, but British voters feel alienated because the only body we get to elect - the EU Parliament - has so little actaul power. The US system isn't perfect but would Americans put up with so-called EU 'democracry'? I doubt it.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 8.

    Do you think America will ever coverage the same degree of attention, care and concern for us, be it an election or a major storm? No. So why do we do it to them? Stop sucking up, man. It's pathetic.

    It's time we stop pandering to the Americans.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 7.

    What an ironic question for the BBC to ask

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 6.

    I do think so for the UK being fixed on the US on the expense of Europe.
    It´s especially for the WWI and II experience, but looked not very good at the Iraq war and David´s slip of the tongue

    "We (= UK) were the junior partner in 1940" (towards the US).

    This is absolutely WRONG!!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 5.

    Of course it matters to us what happens in the US election. Our foreign policy has for decades been to follow the US, and to imagine the US doesn't affect our economy would be to ignore the past four years of recession. Let's be thankful they've re-elected Obama and not let those republican numpties back in!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 4.

    Not only is there far too much coverage on the BBC, there's far too much coverage on all the uk news sites and channels. We're not a US state, so what interest is it to us that Obama or Romney gets elected.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 3.

    Theres far too much focus by the BBC on this alright.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 2.

    There is no difference. The US is split 50:50 just like the UK between two centre parties.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1.

    No. But the British media including the BBC certainly will!

 

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