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
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    Comment number 36.

    The British media covers the US like nowhere else because the British media, in general, speaks only English. Pathetic really. Other countries are at least if not more important but nobody understands what they are saying. Which is why it is a huge disadvantage to be British.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 35.

    I woke up this morning curious to know who'd won. A minute into my bath I listened to Romney's concession speech from downstairs on BBC News... got down at my usual 5.50am to hear them saying they'd hang on until Obama spoke (fair enough)... but at 6.30 it was still going strong and no sign of BBC Breakfast!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 34.

    Thank goodness this election is over. It seems to have gone for an eternity. I doubt very much if an election in our own country would have received such coverage in the USA.

    I dread to think the cost of the coverage of this election by the BBC.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 33.

    If you, in the UK, are tired of hearing about our election, then you should have been over here. Night and day we were inundated with it. I was sick of the whole thing and I wish they would put limits on the amount of money spent like you have over there. The money spent on ads was obscene and probably bigger than some third world country's economy.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 32.

    Was this the election for the police thingy I sort of switched off there for a while

  • rate this
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    Comment number 31.

    For balance can we have the same coverage of elections in Germany, France and other major states?

    Er no. The BBC does not think it as interesting to send hundreds of staff to these places as it is US where they can have a better time.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 30.

    It is not British politicians who are obsessed with the US but the BBC. The number of BBC journalists who have been sent to the US and the amount of the licence fee that has been spent on this unnecessary coverage is a disgrace. Whoever made the decision to undertake this blanket coverage should be sacked.

    The BBC's naked and unlawful per its Charter pro-Obama bias has also been unmissable.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 29.

    ridiculous amount of coverage.far too many BBC on the spot .who really cares Its America and means little to us .when will we stop being blinded by the country that bankrupted us in 1940's.the US economy was built on war profits selling Britain arms. they would be nowhere with out that

  • rate this
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    Comment number 28.

    Ed Miliband probably matches Mitt Romney for failure to enthuse an electorate, wooden, awkward delivery and public unwillingness to see him be the country's representative overseas.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 27.

    Ok Obama's won, I am pleased, Now all I hope is that we can have an Election here and Kick Out this incompetent coalition, every day that is left will mean more misery for the normal man or woman in the street, while the rich wollow in thier tax cuts from Osborne, at the expense of the Disabled, Pensioners and Poor.

    Come on Ed.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 26.

    I am very pleased that Obama won.
    Now, please can we all stop talking about American politics every hour of the day? It has been seriously boring for months!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 25.

    US President of the USA is most important person to the UK outside of the UK - unfortunately this one is not pro-British underneath his diplomatic rhetoric.
    US is our most important trading partner due to defence contracts & the 'essential relationship' of NATO - many forget the importance of NATO.
    Neither EU or Obama/USA will not tackle Chinese trade problems as is another setback for US growth

  • rate this
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    Comment number 24.

    I'm interested in US politics - I even volunteered on Obama's first presidential campaign. But this is getting beyond a joke. The election of Francois Hollande is probably far more significant to the UK than whether Romney or Obama won. Why does the BBC lavish such disproportionate attention on American elections? It's no wonder some of our politicians like to act as though we're the 51st state.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 23.

    It is noteworthy that Obama has won despite the negative economic situation in the US. This may indicate that the electorate put the blame on the predecessor to Obama, realising that no one can turn the supertanker of an economy round quickly. Translating this in the UK may result in the electorate sticking with the current Government rather than opting to go back to Labour's hopeless plan.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 22.

    Obama has achieved nothing in 4 years. The leader of the most powerful yawn yawn yawn has no foreign policy and has led his country to the edge of cliff. Make no mistake about, the US will be in recession in a matter of months unless Obama can show some leadership. Feel my optimism.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 21.

    What I don't understand is why the second headline all day on the BBC web site has been - "David Cameron congratulates Barack Obama" - why is that news, or at all interesting? What next, "Cameron sends birthday card shock"?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 20.

    Cameron should note that Romney lost because he was unable to rein in the extremist 'tea party' wing of his party, anyone for 'legitimate rape'? Miliband should note that Obama had Clinton as effective campaigner, whereas he has the 'ghost' of Brown which he has not yet laid. As to the money, i'm more than greatful that here it is limited and should be more so.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 19.

    Who becomes President of America is very important indeed to the UK. The man has the power to unleash weaponry undreamed of in past major wars, and to drag the world into recession for an unforeseeable period.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 18.

    We probably do take too much interest, but it can be a deflection from challenges at home.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 17.

    Just back from the US. Besides politics the magazines had interviews with Piers Morgan, articles on David Beckham and Downton Abbey, etc. Our countries are much more intertwined than some people think, at least at the social & cultural level. We will never have this with the EU. The US is important to the UK and it is only right that the BBC gives these elections good coverage.

 

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