US election race too close to call
With less that 100 days to go for the US presidential election in November the opinion polls are predicting a very close race between Democratic President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, a former Governor of Massachusetts. It is likely that the election outcome will be decided – once again – by the results in some of the so-called ‘battleground states’ such as Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. In other words, whoever wins these key states will end up in the White House.
While Obama is personally more popular than Romney – the President is more charismatic that his opponent and most Americans would prefer to have a beer with him rather than the Republican candidate – Obama is struggling to convince Americans that his handling of the economy should lead to his re-election.
In fact a recent Ipsos/Thomson Reuters poll showed Romney ahead of Obama on the economy with 36 per cent of voters believing he has a better plan for economic revival compared to 31 per cent who thought Obama had better policies in this regard. And a US Today/Gallup Poll conducted in late July found 50 per cent of Americans said Romney is the candidate who would be better at job creation, with 44 per cent choosing Obama.
In reality Obama has had a mixed record on the economy. He inherited a very difficult situation when he took office in January 2009 with America going through its worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression. The US economy contracted by 3.1 per cent in 2009, and then experienced modest economic growth of 2.4 per cent and 1.8 per cent over the next two years. This year the economy grew by two per cent in the first quarter and then by only 1.5 per cent in the second quarter.
America’s jobless rate and which candidate is best suited to preside over job creation will likely be the determining factor in this election. When Obama took office the unemployment rate stood at 7.8 per cent. As the economic situation worsened this increased to 10 per cent and it now stands at 8.3 per cent which is still far too high for a President seeking re-election. It is important to keep in mind that no US President since World War II has been re-elected with a jobless rate above eight per cent. The fact, however, that the two candidates are stick neck and neck in the polls, despite the high unemployment rate, is positive for Obama.
Further good news for the President is that the latest unemployment figures show that private employers created 163,000 jobs in July, the best rate of hiring in five months. Romney, on the other hand is insisting his economic programme and tax cuts would create 12 million jobs in the next four years. In response Obama told voters in Florida recently that his rival favours “trickle-down tax cut fairy dust” that has failed to fix the economy in the past.
“When I hear Governor Romney say his 25 years in the private sector gives him a special understanding of how the economy works, my question is, why are you running with the same bad ideas that brought our economy to the brink of disaster,” Obama said, adding that Romney’s proposed tax cuts for high income earners would mean higher tax bills for the middle class.
Obama and the Democratic Party have rather successfully portrayed Romney as a super rich out of touch businessman who pays less taxes than the average middle class American – since his earnings are taxed largely as capital gains rather than income. Romney has not yet released his 2011 tax returns, something that voters are not comfortable with.
The latest national polls are indeed close. The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for last Thursday shows Romney attracting 46 per cent of the vote, while Obama earns support from 44 per cent. On the other hand a Gallup opinion poll shows Obama leading Romney by 47 per cent to 45 per cent.
However, a Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll released on Thursday shows Obama leading Romney among voters in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania – three important battleground states with a high number of Electoral College votes.
The poll, conducted from July 24-30, shows Obama beating his Republican challenger 53 per cent to 42 per cent in Pennsylvania, 50 per cent to 44 per cent in Ohio and 51 per cent to 45 per cent in Florida. It is important to note that Ohio has not backed a losing presidential candidate since 1960 – Ohio is regarded as a ‘mini America’ – so just like in 2008 all eyes will be on the state again this year to see if Obama can hold on to his lead.
Another key issue in this presidential campaign is the deficit, forecast to hit $1.65 trillion this year, which led to Obama’s Democrats suffering heavy losses in the 2010 congressional elections. Romney has accused Obama of being a big-spending liberal, while the President has blamed the Republicans for creating the deficit under former President George W. Bush and has accused Romney of wanting want to cut spending on important areas such as education.
Although Obama’s historic health care law is one of the proudest achievements of his legacy – something we in Europe all agree is a good thing – it has proven to be controversial and divisive in America. Conservatives oppose what they call ‘Obamacare’ because they regard it as an example of government interference in their lives. Romney has promised to repeal the President’s health reform law which will definitely be a major issue in this campaign.
Although foreign policy is not a major issue in this campaign, Republicans have signalled they intend to make Obama’s ‘weak global leadership’ an issue this November. On balance I feel that Obama has done a good job in foreign policy, repairing America’s image abroad, getting US troops out of Iraq, going for the diplomatic option on Iran and responding well to the revolution in Libya.
On the other hand his failure to get the Middle East peace process moving is certainly disappointing as is his lack of action on Syria – although the Russians and Chinese are to blame for this stalemate.
Romney, on the other hand, has so far failed to impress most foreign policy observers. He called Russia “without question our number one geopolitical foe”, he offended the Palestinians by drawing an unfavourable contrast between the economic performance of Israel and the Palestinian territories and he also upset his British hosts by questioning the level of preparedness of the Olympics.
Social issues will also be debated in this campaign, such as abortion and gay rights, but are not expected to play a major part in the election. Obama’s support for gay marriage, however, may cost his some votes among Catholics, Hispanics and African-Americans, most of who supported him in 2008. Some observers believe that considering the election is bound to be so close, Obama took an unnecessary risk in supporting gay marriage which is a very divisive issue in America.