From misgivings over his management of the economy, a low approval rating, a stiff opposition from the Republican Party and the challenges of a divided legislature, Barack Obama won a surprise lead to get a second term
Winning the 2012 presidential election could have been a stroll in the park for Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s standard-bearer, if he had had a better idea about how to manage the economy and how to sell himself to the electorate. He would have trounced the incumbent, President Barack Obama, whose approval rating was below 50 per cent because of his inability to fully implement his 2008 promise to turn the economy around. In fact, majority of Americans believed he was pushing the country down the wrong path as the unemployment rate hovered around eight per cent in the last four years. No United States, US, president has ever won a re-election with unemployment rate of over 7.2 per cent since Franklin Roosevelt who hit 16.9 per cent in 1936.
But Romney never managed to deliver the killer punch. Experts say a better Republican candidate might have persuaded the electorate to vote for a better manager of the economy. Even then he was perceived as too hazily drawn and too evasive to be entrusted with an office he so openly craved. Given this scenario, Obama was in the game throughout the entire campaign spanning a period of 18 months, and despite hysterical Republican calls to the contrary, the momentum was with him, not with Romney. After countless stump speeches, three debates and historic levels of advertising, he posted an emphatic victory in a race that was hitherto considered too close to call.
Obama succeeded in clinching a mandate for a second term because he was able to appeal to both traditional supporters of his party and an array of floating voters who embraced him in spite of the fact that he was not able to achieve much during his first term in the face of a stiff opposition from the Republican-dominated Congress.
According to analysts, Obama’s successful bid for presidency this time around depended on one crucial factor: his success in the swing states. One unique feature of the American presidential election is the Electoral College system, which places the responsibility of deciding the outcome of the contest on the shoulders of the electorate in over a dozen of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This group of states, known as the swing or battleground states, practically holds the key to the Oval Office. In US presidential politics, a swing or a battleground state is one in which no single candidate or party has overwhelming support in securing that state’s Electoral College votes.
Millions of Americans voted last Tuesday for the candidate whose policies appeal to them, but the choice of who eventually becomes the president is actually made by the Electoral College. The college is a process in which each candidate seeks to reach the winning mark of 270 votes out of the total 538 in the college. The system does involve people called electors, who are distributed among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the size of each state's Congressional delegation. These vary greatly: California is the largest with 55, while the likes of sparsely populated Alaska and Montana have only three each.
Dehab Ghebreab, public affairs officer, United States consulate general, Lagos, explained that the Electoral College system allows each state to decide the method by which it awards electors. “Since in most states the legislature wants to increase the voting power of the majority, all states except Maine and Nebraska use a winner-take-all system where the candidate who wins the most popular votes in a state wins all of that state's electoral votes,” she told the magazine.
This way, presidential candidates have no incentive to spend time or resources in states they are likely to win or lose by a sizable margin. The problem is that the winner of the popular vote may not necessarily win the Electoral College. In 2000, Al Gore, the Democratic standard-bearer and former vice president, won 500,000 more votes than his Republican counterpart, George W Bush, but lost the Electoral College by five votes.
Although the results will be known and declared on the election night – barring any legal disputes – voters are in fact only indirectly voting for a president. Obama’s swing-state successes garnered him a total of 303 electoral votes; well over the 270 votes needed for a presidential win. Though Florida’s 29 electoral votes were still up for grabs as at press time last week, Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, proved to be a critical contributor to Obama’s electoral success. Obama not only won in the traditional blue states of Illinois (his home state), Romney's home state of Massachusetts and vice president Joe Biden's home state of Delaware, but also captured Wisconsin, the home state of Romney’s vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan. The president also won in the swing states of New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Maine, California, New Mexico, Washington State, Oregon, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maryland, Vermont, Minnesota and Nevada. He is also projected to win Florida.
Obama’s success in Michigan and Ohio, where the US car industry is based, suggests his successful 2009 auto bailout has made a huge difference in this election. Indeed, Ohio was a vital “tipping point” state in the 2012 presidential campaign. Romney only conceded defeat after Democrats secured the key swing state, pushing Obama’s Electoral College votes beyond the required 270 mark. According to agency reports, Ohio has decided the winning candidate in every presidential election since 1960.
Obama’s strategy of winning in crucial swing states was to ensure that his party supporters turn out in their numbers to cast their ballot. Obama got 50 per cent of the votes in Ohio, with Romney trailing close behind at 48 per cent, a margin of roughly 100,000 votes. The polls had suggested that both candidates were running neck-and-neck up until the last moment. Deborah Schildkraut, associate professor of Political Science, said, “In Ohio, both parties are strong, both parties have had governors, both parties have had senators, both parties have a significant presence in the state, so it’s really a matter of convincing people to vote.”
Another vital factor in winning the 2012 presidential election was the use of social media. Observers say a last minute campaign on Twitter may have been President Obama's secret weapon. Twitter statistics show a surge in the final hours of the campaign, with #voteObama the top trending topic. None of the top 10 topics were about Romney.
Factors such as early voting and endorsements also helped. For instance, Obama, America’s 44th president, also partly owes his re-election to the personal endorsement provided by Bill Clinton, the country’s 42nd president. Obama's team also believed the early voting, which it vigorously campaigned for, gave Democrats a big advantage; those who voted early were urged to grab five friends and take them to the polls. Jeremy Bird, one of Obama’s campaign managers, said Democrats spent all day dragging people to the ballot box.
Besides, Obama rode on a wave of broad support from young voters, moderates, women and minorities to defeat his Republican challenger in Democratic strongholds and key battleground states. About 700,000 volunteers, working from 5,100 local offices across the country, reportedly made more than 125 million personal phone calls to voters and aggressively got 1.7 million new voters registered, in a bid to get Obama re-elected. In the end, the coalition of young people, women, Blacks, Hispanics, Native American Indians and other non-white elements in the population, who routed for Obama, made the difference.
In comparison, the Romney campaign team concentrated on the white male population throughout the whole campaign. He won the white votes handily, 58 to 40 per cent, the biggest lead for a Republican since 1988. But unfortunately for him, they now make up a lower percentage of voters than in the past. In 1976, for instance, white men were 46 per cent of voters. But in the current election the figure has reduced to 34 per cent. If white women had stayed in Romney’s camp, those swing states – Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire – might have moved into his column. Instead, Obama led among women by 12 points, nearly identical to his lead among women four years ago.
Indeed, the statistics being released after the polls say it all: Hispanic voters comprised 10 per cent of the electorate. In that segment, Obama won seven out of 10 votes, won 93 per cent of the black vote, and more than 70 per cent of Asian voters. Similarly, among young voters, he secured two-thirds of the preferences of those aged between 18 and 29. That segment is almost a fifth of the electorate. According to reports, for the first time last year, more babies were born to non-white parents than to whites, a trend which explains why the Republican Party can no longer afford to ignore Hispanic voters. The shift saw Obama holding old southern states such as Virginia, which he had won in 2008, on the back of a euphoric wave of support which some had put down to a fluke.
Incidentally, the 2012 presidential election campaign, believed to be the most expensive in American political history, gulped over $2.6 billion. A large chunk of this amount was spent on television advertisements, which were targeted at the electorate, particularly in battleground states.
However, against the euphoria of four years ago, winning the 2012 presidential election was a bittersweet victory for Obama as the victory now challenges him to take America towards a better, more prosperous future. But the about average performance on the economic front during the first term was not entirely Obama’s fault. From the moment Obama took office in 2009, the Republicans engaged in a confrontational strategy designed to ensure that he does not stay beyond one term. But it failed. In spite of the fact that both parties believe it was time to put partisan politics aside for the good of the country; the initial reaction of Republicans to Obama’s re-election does not bode well for a rapprochement any time soon.
The major challenge facing the re-elected president is the economy. The country is slowly crawling out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and unemployment has fallen but remains stubbornly high, at 7.9 per cent, and hiring remains too slow to absorb the millions of unemployed or underemployed Americans. Economic growth remains sluggish – two per cent in the third quarter – and any slightest shock could send it crashing down again.
Additional report by ABIOLA ODUTOLA