Obama’s comfortable victory
As expected, Barack Obama was re-elected President of the United States; the result was close, yet not as close as it was expected to be. Obama beat his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, by a comfortable 332 to 206 Electoral College votes; in terms of the popular vote the President captured 50.1 per cent compared to 48.3 per cent for his challenger.
Significantly, Obama managed to hold on to all the swing states he won in 2008 – Colorado, Florida (where the result was very close), Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin – with the exception of North Carolina and Indiana, which he was expected to lose.
Nationwide, Obama did lose a lot of support, even though he was comfortably re-elected. While in 2008 Obama received 9.5 million more votes than the then Republican candidate, John McCain, this time round he obtained just over two million more votes than Romney.
Considering the high unemployment figures and modest economic growth that characterised the past four years, this decline in support for Obama is understandable. Yet in the end, Americans stuck with the President they knew, could identify with and trust. Voters remained suspicious of Romney and questioned his ability to control the more conservative elements within the Republican Party.
Obama’s victory is quite an achievement considering he faced voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt – 7.9 per cent. Yet voters seemed to have appreciated the very difficult situation Obama inherited four years ago – an economy on the verge of collapse and two costly wars – as well as the role the President played in preventing the US economy from sinking from a recession into a depression.
Besides, the Obama camp had a brilliant party machine in place with offices in place in the key battleground states a year before the election. His bailout of the car industry, in which government funds were used to save General Motors and Chrysler, secured the President an easy victory in Michigan, once considered a battleground state, and his executive order in June which allowed young Hispanics in the country illegally to apply for work visas, reinforced his support from America’s fastest growing minority group.
Many voters simply did not know what Romney really stood for. In the Republican primary race he adopted a right-wing position on both economic and foreign policy, while in the presidential campaign he tried to move to the centre; this was too late and voters remained unconvinced.
Furthermore, the President’s team successfully painted Romney as a wealthy businessman who could not relate to the everyday concerns of the middle classes.
Exit polls showed that Obama won re-election with the same coalition that earned him victory four years ago: women, young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics.
Overall, Obama won 55 per cent of women’s vote, 93 per cent of the black vote, 71 per cent of the Hispanic vote, 60 per cent of voters aged 18 to 29, 52 per cent of voters aged 40 to 44, 60 per cent of lower income voters and 70 per cent of the Jewish vote.
Significantly, the President received 54 per cent of the vote of those who named unemployment as their top economic concern. He also got a majority of votes from those concerned about healthcare and foreign policy.
Romney did better among men (55 per cent), the white electorate (61 per cent), those aged 45 to 64 (51 per cent), Protestants (62 per cent), those who went to religious services at least once a week (59 per cent) and voters who said the economy was their main concern (51 per cent). The Catholic vote was evenly split among the two candidates.
The Republican Party will now be under pressure to undergo a soul-searching exercise as to why it performed so badly among women and non-white voters.
It will also need to adopt a more united platform, bridge the differences between its conservative and moderate wings and update some of its policies without compromising its core values. In the last six presidential elections the Republican Party has won the popular vote only once, in 2004, and that is surely something for party strategists to worry about.
As President Obama returns to office he faces a number of domestic and foreign policy challenges he will have to address. His number one priority domestically is to deal with the country’s massive debt and deficit, something he did not give much attention to during his presidential campaign.
On this and many other issues Obama will have to reach across the aisle and work with the Republicans. While the Democrats strengthened their control over the 100-seat Senate, with gains in Massachusetts and Indiana, the Republicans kept control of the 435-seat House of Representatives with a solid majority. (Republicans also now control 30 state governorships for the first time since 2000.)
Obama’s main task is to prevent what has been called the ‘fiscal cliff’ from being triggered off. This is a nickname given for a combination of government spending cuts and tax rises worth $6 billion (€4.7bn) that Americans automatically face in early January if no agreement can be reached between Republicans and Democrats to reduce America’s $16 trillion (€12.6tn) debt.
The fear expressed by many observers is that the US economy is too fragile to withstand such a sudden fiscal adjustment and could once again suffer a recession.
The President will no doubt focus a great deal on job creation in his second term in office, as well as reforming Medicare, the government’s healthcare programme for the elderly and disabled – which is ruining out of money, fixing the country’s immigration situation, investing more on clean energy, and hopefully, combating climate change, highlighted recently by Superstorm Sandy.
US presidents tend to dedicate more time on foreign policy during their second term in office and there are certainly a number of issues which urgently require attention by Obama. The President will have to focus more on trying to achieve progress in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute; in Syria, where the situation is worsening by the day, the US is likely to take more of a direct role and Obama could possibly support the introduction of no-fly zones and the arming of rebels.
Iran’s nuclear programme remains the number one foreign policy challenge for Obama. He deserves credit for understanding the need to go down the diplomatic route before considering a military option, but sooner or later a major decision will be required.
China’s growing economic power is another challenge and the President will soon have to deal with a new leadership in Beijing. Once again he will have to balance the need for engagement with standing up to China on human rights and trade issues.
The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan remain complex and will continue to require much focus by Washington; other challenges include dealing with Russia, nuclear arms reduction, North Korea and the threat posed by al-Qaeda.
During his first term in office Obama’s foreign policy on the whole was level-headed, showed good judgement and was based on multilateralism and global engagement. Long may it continue.