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 76.

    I didn't think there was that much difference between Labour and Tory planned cuts and tax rises. Hardly Democrat versus Republican! At least the UK has a united majority government and doesn't have to face a cliff of indecision. But neither is it tested by an alternative policy by its opposition.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 75.

    The Democrats have always been akin to the Labour Party and nothing much has changed in that respect. I cannot see Obama greatly drawn to Cameron - or anyone else, come to that!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 74.

    While the economic crisis was clearly a global one and not the work of specific politicians, Labour's rhetoric (e.g. end to boom and bust) was hugely damaging as it was false and fed the illusion that economic growth lasts forever!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 73.

    I would expect any resonably intelligent Englishman + the others in these islands that we inhabit would be delighted that Barack Obama won. The other guy - Romney is an idiot of the first order and would have been desperate to start a war somewhere in the world, just to get the economy working no matter what !

  • rate this
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    Comment number 72.

    Obama inherited a banking system in collapse . Budget defecits and a screwed economy . He also has an opposition who whilst being responsible for the mess ,are busy trying to make the situation even worse .
    No wonder Cameron and Obama have so much in common

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 71.

    Labour has it's own squeaky clean good looking high profile Black MP in
    Chuka Umunna .

    Given another decade He may well feature as leader.

    Mind you the Tories always Have Eric Pickles who will capture the Pie Eating Vote

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 70.

    I suspect as far as most Americans were concerned, this was a case of "better the devil you know".

    Obama was originally elected on a raft of promises, very few of which he has kept, in some cases going in the opposite direction completely.

    Romney on the other hand has a gift of only pausing to change whatever foot is currently in his mouth at the time.

    Two great choices...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 69.

    56. WANAITT

    The Tories certainly do lie - they are politicians - they all lie. Constantly.

    However, some people have a permanent lie filters for the colour they like best (blue or red) and only notice the lies of one side.

    For example you could have mentioned Labour's claims that millionaires are getting £40000 tax breaks. Lie.

    The electorate must be stupid if they believe either side.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 68.

    Comparing Cameron to Obama is like night and day. Obama can stand and deliver a speech that in content is well though out and is what the people want to hear and with no notes or auto cues. Cameron on the other hand has to read everything prepared by his spin doctors, this man is only like a muppet except you cant see the strings. Obama puts him to complete shame.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 67.

    David Cameron is no Obama.

    And Ed Milliband is no Mitt Romney.

    And it's the Tories, not Labour, who are likely to alienate key parts of the electorate with their toxic views on race and women.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 66.

    I reckon the communist party of uk will be celebrating the most.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 65.

    Obama's party organisation was strategically consistent and brilliant in tactical organisation of swing voters and turnout. Either UK party could adopt this in theory, but it needs young, inspired organisers. The Tories + LibDems are unlikely to have them in 2015. Second, a presidency is not a cabinet. The Tories are hamstrung by weak cabinet members, but Labour's team is as impressive as in 1997.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 64.

    I found the whole coverage facinating, watching the battle between the ideologies played out. Delighted Obama won, he completely dwarfs our stone hearted Government who are like Romney, but Godless money worshippers.
    This US election marks the turning point for our lovely folk, who deserve a Goverment with integrity and stand for something greater that GB PLC.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 63.

    Far too much coverage of the election from the BBC, but nowhere near enough of the third party candidates. The liberty movement cost GOP this election - I've yet to see the BBC mention that.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 62.

    I thought for a while that my vote was going to count in US. I was definitely in favour of The Man. We dont vote for a person however we vote for a party which makes our vote much less personal.Our MP is just someone flown in for the event. Local people would excite more interest.Globally Obama is a known quantity so I expect his reelection was a relief to most politicians across the world.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 61.

    Obama may turn out to be one of the US' greatest presidents, but he's going to need to be to avoid the Fiscal Cliff. Trouble is an insane Senate Republican wall may well funnel the US and the world over that cliff unless Obama can break their deadlock...fingers crossed that 'yes he can'.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 60.

    Obama underestimated the challenge. He didn't take Romney's magic pants seriously, or expect the republicans to be so good at showing up his lack of change and actually doing stuff. America is deeply divided between the conservative middle and the coastal libertarians, not just on the map but sexually and racially. Obama is easily the best and most charismatic US politician since JFK.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 59.

    Labour have not got Obama - they have got the two Eds. Obama is a brilliant politician and in touch with his people - especially women. Obama has got more charisma and gravitas in his ear lobe than the entire shadow cabinet put together. Cameron is also not a religious weirdo who wears magic pants, bans abortion and hates black people. Other than that, UK politics is just like the US.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 58.

    Point about the Tories' mendacious claims is that you can only get away with it for so long: if you stick to repeating these in your Tory friendly fawning Press. The Electorate (just like in the USA) saw right through this and voted for what they know to be right. The Tories only strategy is to blame the other lot (even their own Civil Servants)-you can't win Elections with this sort of mentality.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 57.

    Can't compare the USA with UK: Tories Mendacity extends to Police staff numbers, NHS staff numbers, and 120,000 "problem families"-can they name these? And if the "blinds are drawn" they are scroungers, being in poverty is a "life-style" choice, most disabled are "fit to work" .etc etc.Tories are adopting a unique new vocabulary that the right wing loves...except the intelligent people of the UK

 

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