Guest post by Ambassador Neelam Deo, Director, Gateway House
It looks like winning is all that matters in the first-past-the-post system in the U.S., so much so that it does not matter precisely how President Obama won a second term as the President of the United States. But his narrow victory with a lead of only 2% of the popular vote, out of a voting public which has declined from 131 million (in the 2008 election) to 117 million, reflects the disenchantment and polarization of the electorate.
Winning may well turn out to have been the easy part. The President has to work with the relatively unchanged Congressional configuration – the cause of the paralysis in decision-making in the past few years.
Obama must move quickly to dispel the disappointments of his first term which made the election such a nail biter- disappointments both at home in America and abroad. For that he must craft an agenda that is adequately bipartisan to win over enough Republicans in the House and Senate to pass legislation addressing the country’s growing annual budgetary deficit, the massive national debt and the stagnant economy to generate more employment at home so that the American economy does not continue to be a drag on global growth.
President Obama has won an important victory with more than 30 Electoral votes to spare, partly because of the superb fund raising and mobilisation of votes that became his hallmark in 2008. Obama also benefited from the gaffes of his challenger – particularly remarks Romney made disparaging 47% of voters as non tax-paying Obama supporters and therefore not worthy of Republican attention. This may have ensured that 60% of the young, especially the unemployed who had sympathized with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, voted Democrat.
The changing American demography works in favour of the Democrats. In particular, Obama won the support of 70% of Hispanics, whose percentage in the population has grown from 9 to 10 in just the last 4 years. He did this by introducing legislation that enabled the children of illegal immigrants to be entitled to such benefits as scholarships for education and move ahead in the queue for citizenship.
At the same time, the Democrats cannot overlook the fact that Caucasians still make up 73% of the electorate, but only 38% supported Obama. This, despite 55% of all women voting Democrat, though only 42% of white women voters were among them. Obama would have received even less white support if not for the rampant misogyny of Republican plans to curb the right to abortion, receive free contraception. This, along with the Republican castigation of victims of rape repelled many women, especially the highly educated.
Despite Obama’s massive financial infusions to rescue investment banks and big business in general, the corporate sector supported Romney and more importantly massively funded his election campaign. Some balance was provided by the support for Obama of well known and respected businessmen such as Warren Buffet and Hollywood celebrites such as Bruce Springsteen who contributed funds and made appearances at his rallies. Together both candidates have spent upwards a whopping $3 billion in this election.
As expected, African Americans voted overwhelmingly in favour of the President despite the knowledge that their problems remained largely unaddressed in a stagnant economy. Still the more inclusive rhetoric of the Democrats on social issues including gay marriage pulled in those votes. The President’s sincere and efficient response to the devastation caused by Super storm Sandy won him support even from committed Republicans. Most intriguingly Obama won 69% of the Jewish vote despite the menacing tone of the Israeli President and Romney’s hard line position on Iran’s nuclear programme.
The non-voting rest of the world is relieved that a Romney breathing fire and brimstone against Russia, China, Iran, and Syria is not in charge of the mighty American military and economy. Apart from the comfort of the familiar, Obama has won respect for being steadfast in the face of unseemly pressure from the Republicans and Israelis and American Jewish lobbies. Now he must be some more steadfast by refusing to blatantly interfere in Arab affairs while genuinely promoting the Israeli- Palestinian peace process.
India will be interested to see how a new Democratic administration functions in Asia, especially in fleshing out and implementing the “pivot to Asia”, under a Secretary of State other than Hilary Clinton who has already announced her departure. While there is some unease about the exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, India can also take comfort from a more realistic American appreciation of the fragility of the power structure in Pakistan which should preclude indulgence of terrorist activities against Indian targets.
A more positive agenda also awaits the two countries in the nuclear, defense, trade and education areas. This is also an opportunity for Government of India to infuse new energy into the bilateral relationship.
(This article originally appeared at Gateway House and has been republished with their approval. All views mentioned in the article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or positions of USINPAC in any manner.)