As the 2012 US election season came to a close, it became suddenly clear that the story of this year’s campaign had been written with two main characters in mind, the Obama team’s formidable ground game and a more diverse America. Together, this duo helped carry the incumbent President to victory in an unforeseen landslide. And, over the next few years, it will give much food for thought to a bruised Republican Party.
In what felt more like a chess game than Election Day, President Obama took all of the crucial battleground states except for Florida (which at the time of writing is still undecided.) He carried Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada. The only two states that flipped back to the GOP after going for Obama in 2008 were Indiana and North Carolina, both a foregone conclusion for some time.
But Obama’s string of victories came only by laser-thin margins. It is a testament to the efficiency, determination and dedication of his political machine that he was able to do so. Thanks to months of number-crunching and door-knocking, Obama’s advisers, strategists, staffers and volunteers across the country, marching in unison, managed to turn out exactly the kind of electorate they needed in order to win.
Friendly constituencies like African Americans and Latinos, as well as women and young people, voted in high numbers. Among Latinos, Obama led, according to exit polls, with 69% of the vote to Mitt Romney’s 30%, the worst performance by a GOP nominee since Bob Dole in 1996. At the same time, the share of the white vote was especially low. Exit polls by the Washington Post put it at 72%, down from the 2010 Republican sweep of the House (where it had been 77%) but lower even than in 2008 (74%.)
And if this reflects the targeted efforts of the Obama campaign, it is also the result of rapidly shifting demographics in America, which is growing increasingly more diverse in its gender, race, class and religious make-up. Critics have long pointed out that Republicans can no longer hope to win elections by only relying on the votes of white men. Yet, for all the talk about finding a new GOP strategy to make inroads with these newly powerful constituencies, Romney ran one of the least welcoming campaigns ever, especially toward Hispanic voters and women.
America’s changing face was not only evident at the presidential level, but also in Senate races and ballot measures. Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin became the first openly gay US Senator. New Hampshire put an all-female team in power - the state’s governor and its delegation to Washington (two senators and two congresswomen.) Residents of Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use while those in Massachusetts approved a ballot measure that would make medical marijuana legal. And Maryland and Maine approved same-sex marriage.
Defeated, Republicans now have two years until the midterm elections of 2014, and four years until the next presidential elections of 2016, to think things through and figure out how to change the party so as to keep up with the country’s evolving demographics.
The best news of the night came to the GOP from House races. Despite the fact that the Republican majority elected in 2010 is one of the least liked ever, it managed to hold on to power and in fact, once all votes are counted, it might even gain further ground. On the surface, this appears like an inexplicable outcome, but it is, at least in part, the product of the most recent round of redistricting, which generally favored GOP candidates, and of the enormous amount of money spent by conservative groups, or Super PACs, on local races.
Overall, the 2012 elections cycle yielded yet again a divided government, with a Democratic White House and Senate and a Republican House. It is somewhat surprising that, after years of anti-incumbent vitriol and in a country where voters say they are dissatisfied with everything that has to do with federal politics and Washington, Americans chose to stay the course.
The truth is that a recovery, albeit slow, is underway in the US and people everywhere are beginning to feel it. At the end of the day, maybe, voters here are now less disgruntled with the status-quo than they would like to admit. After all, an oft-cited study by Moody’s Analytics recently predicted that twelve million new jobs would be created in America in the next four years independent of who is president.
For Obama this means that, after presiding over the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he might finally get to enjoy the fruits of his hard labor. For Romney and the Republicans, instead, now begins a period of soul searching, in which they will have to find ways to modernize their party and open it up to this new emerging America.