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El Pais, Spain

The Keys to Obama’s Victory

By Antonio Cano

Translated By Natalie Legros

7 November 2012

Edited by Kath­leen Weinberger

Spain - El Pais - Original Article (Spanish)

On Tuesday, Barack Obama was reelected for a second term. This was thanks to the extraordinary capacity of his campaign's mobilization, as well as the consolidation of a new, large Democratic coalition composed of Latinos, women and young people that, helped by the middle class' lack of confidence in the Republican Party, has redrawn the electoral map of the United States.

It was a victory greater than expected in terms of electoral votes – 303 to 206, or 332 if he ends up winning Florida – but tight in terms of the popular vote. Obama repeated a victory in all the states that he had won in 2008, except Indiana and North Carolina. But he only had 3 million more votes than the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney: 60 million (50.3 percent) compared to 57 million (48.7 percent). It's a difference somewhat inferior to the one that George Bush reached against John Kerry in 2004 and a much smaller advantage margin than the one that Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were re-elected with.

Obama is both the first president after Franklin D. Roosevelt that got re-elected with a superior unemployment rate [above] 7 percent and the first Democrat after the same Roosevelt to surpass the barrier of 50 percent for a second consecutive time.

All of these are indicators of weaknesses and strengths that Obama has shown in these elections. On one hand, he has been a leader capable of bringing together a significant mass of voters that have confidence in him that goes beyond the results of his management. On the other hand, it is evident that he will have to manage a country politically polarized, half of which cast doubt on his conditions.

There are many circumstances that could have contributed to Obama's victory. From his handling of the Hurricane Sandy catastrophe, which is in drastic contrast with what occurred during Katrina, to the limitations of his rival, trapped by the image of an opportunistic millionaire that weighed him down like a slab of rock.

The Democratic campaign was very effective in establishing that image, using a propaganda campaign that goes back to the spring. However, the Republican candidate contributed to that with his refusal to clear up the issue of his taxes and a pair of setbacks – especially the setback from the video in which he disdained the 49 percent of the population that receives some type of public help – that couldn't compensate for his subsequent successes.

The strategy of a campaign is, without a doubt, a determinant in modern democracies. Obama's, both now and in 2008, has won acclaim for its shrewdness. However, this time it did not have the favorable wind of history behind it, nor the chaos of the rodeo that was John McCain’s campaign. This time, Obama's strategists were faced with another equally powerful political machine, which earned $500 million more than the Democratic campaign.

Strategies and money, however, need a good product to sell to be successful. Surveys taken by the media at exit polls and before in the last days of the electoral campaign reveal that Obama was the best product. By various margins, the electorate considers him a stronger, more trustworthy and more capable leader than Romney. Including the matter of the economy, which was the voters' primary preoccupation and the only one where the Republican candidate had an advantage for months, Obama was equal to or surpassed his rival in the last moment. Additionally, Obama bested his opponent in the supreme question: Who believes that he can do more for you? There are other remarkable details from the polls: A majority of the key states fundamentally blamed George W. Bush for the country's economic problems, and 56 percent of the state of Ohio applauded the president's decision to rescue the automobile industry, which was criticized by Romney.

"You know me, you know who I am," insisted Obama in his final speeches. The people know, more or less, what they can expect from Obama, what his virtues are and what his faults are. They know that he has made a strong effort to improve the economic situation, although he has only gotten it in part. They know that he is an honest man that is not going to be involved in scandals or corruption. In contrast, Romney is the embodiment of the uncertainty. Given his constantly fluctuating beliefs, it was impossible to predict which Romney we would find in the White House – the extremist of the primaries or the moderate of the presidential campaign.

In the North American political system, a president's natural fate is to be reelected. In the last 50 years, only Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr. were not chosen for a second term, and [those cases were] in very particular circumstances. Obama's defeat would have been an authentic upset, particularly because of the fact of his being the first African-American president in history.

It is necessary to give the electorate many good reasons for them to choose to not re-elect a president. An internationally resonating failure, declining economic prospects or a brilliant candidate of opposition can be the reason to do it. Neither of those circumstances existed in this occasion. Americans feel protected with their commander-in-chief, support his role in the world and are worried but very optimistic with respect to the mess of the economy.

Finally, with the caveat that, if two percent of votes had gone to the opposing side, the analysis would have been different, Obama showed a face that looks more like the current United States. As is demonstrated by the legalization of marijuana or gay marriage in some states, there is evidence, especially regarding the increased participation of Latinos, that the country is changing and going in a direction distinctly opposite to the one in which the Republican Party is moving.



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