After 2 years and over $2.5 billion, America re-elected Barack Obama to office.
With Florida undecided, the Democrats won 303 electoral votes, 12% more than needed, 50%-48% of the popular vote and swept all the swing states; despite an unemployment rate of 7.9%, a budget deficit of $1.6 trillion, a national debt of $16 trillion and 23 million Americans looking for work. The question is not how the Democrats won and won bigger than expected; but how the Republicans lost a race that was theirs for the taking. The latter had the money, the organization, the backdrop, and by most accounts, the candidate best qualified to fix the economy. Where did the Republicans fail?
While the economy figured largely, Americans must have decided social issues were equally important like reproductive health, climate change, immigration and a caring Government. The Democrats presented a holistic vision where community, “love and charity” are ideals as fundamental to the American Dream as individual achievement and free enterprise. This resounded with women, minorities (especially Latinos) and the young who were the foundation of the Obama victory. Ironically, these are the very constituencies badly affected by the current recession.
What were the lessons of the elections? Here are some:
1. Pollsters are right- The polls predicted the results with uncanny accuracy. Nate Silver, a prominent pollster, projected a 91% probability of an Obama win. Republicans dispelled their forecasts but ultimately had to eat their words.
2. Demographics are playing an increasing role- In the mid-1900’s, whites made up 95% of the voting population, today they constitute 74% and dropping. This year a majority of whites voted Republican.The Obama victory is being partly ascribed to the engagement of blacks and the rapid rise of Latinos especially in swing states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada. Latinos now constitute 10% of the voting population and voted 71% Democrat because of immigration.
3. Gender is an issue- Women voted 55% Democrat, white males 52% Republican. Women vote in greater number than men. The Republicans cannot continue to disparage women’s reproductive rights as two Republican senatorial candidates (Mourdock and Akin) did and not suffer the consequences. Both were trounced.
4. Romney should have stayed true to himself- Given the small margin of the popular vote, if Romney had run as a center-right candidate rather than a ‘faux’ conservative, he would have arguably won the Presidency. He would have always had the right, however reluctant, what he needed were the independents and undecided. Against his personal inclination, he caved in to the extremists in his party to win this year’s primaries. Only after his nomination did he return to his natural base in the middle of the political spectrum. This finally made him competitive albeit too little, too late. Romney never led his party, his party led him. The Republican campaign was a case of the tail wagging the dog.
5. Vice-Presidents don’t matter unless they are a demographic- Paul Ryan could not even carry Wisconsin, his home state. Florida Senator Rubio, a Hispanic, may have been a better choice.
6. Republicans must re-think their ideology to remain relevant- They are currently a coalition of evangelicals, Tea Party conservatives and older white male voters. They are an exclusionary party that does not see the changing demographics, social mores like women’s reproductive rights and same gender issues, and America’s role in the world. They are an organization stuck in the past. Already there are stirrings for a viable third party to replace them.
Republicans control the House. They are still unlikely to work with a Democratic President with America and, long term them, being the worst for it. Wary of the gridlock, the U.S. stock market dropped 2% last night.
7. Hillary Clinton will be the next U.S. President- Bill Clinton played a pivotal role in Obama’s victory. The President will return the favor in 2016. Hillary plays to the growing importance of the female and minority vote and her foreign affairs credentials. If Obama succeeds in his next term, Hillary will ride the Democratic wave; if he does not, she can claim she was no longer part of the Administration. She is retiring as Secretary of State. Bill is the single most popular (non)political figure in the U.S. In Hillary Americans will be getting two for the price of one.
8. It was a victory for moderation- The biggest winner of the elections is as pointed out by Thomas Friedman the coalition of center right-to-center left Americans who are tired of the exceptionalism, partisanship, anger and ideological rigidity of the extreme wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties. This moderate America, whether from the North, the South or the Mid-West, black, Hispanic, Asian or white, gay or straight, young or old, rich or poor; is the compassionate, friendly, and decent people we all know and love. They are not the ones who attract the attention of media but they are the majority and in this election, fortunately, they showed up.