After all the anguish, all the hyperventilation, all the spin, we are pretty much back to where we’d thought we’d be. Obama wins a second term with a clear but narrow Electoral College margin, and a clear but very narrow popular vote margin. The GOP keeps control of the House. The biggest surprise is that the Democrats, with the cards stacked against them, not only keep control of the Senate, they increase their edge. But the gain is not enough to beat filibusters. For all the energy and money spent on both sides, this was a status quo election.
Obama and Romney both won where they were supposed to, with Romney tacking on enough huge majorities in his states that he held the popular vote edge all evening, until they started counting California. Every swing state went to Obama’s column, and that was the difference. But it wasn’t surprising: multiple polls in the closing weeks had been consistent in giving Obama the edge in virtually all the swingers, except Florida. And it is Florida that is still out at this writing (though with a substantial Obama lead with 100% of precincts reporting). And it is scarcely surprising that Florida would be in this position yet again.
It’s again a heavy majority of whites for the Republicans, against very strong majorities of everybody else for the Democrats. Romney morphed into enough of a conservative to hold the Tea Party, and kept enough moderate winks and nods to avoid frightening the saner conservatives. But he couldn’t break through to traditional Democratic constituencies like industrial workers as much as he needed in Ohio and Michigan, where racism and social conservatism dueled with economic interest. Economic interest won: the auto bailout worked, and autoworkers remembered.
Much has been made of the gender gap, but a majority of white women and a majority of married women voted for Romney. Romney’s majority among white men was larger, but it was women of color who made the gender gap a chasm. Age again, as in 2008, made a big difference: voters under 30 gave a very strong majority to Obama, while those over 50 were strong for Romney.
Urbanization was very significant. Even in states with overwhelming Republican majorities, larger cities like Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, or Charlotte tended to be more Democratic or less Republican than surrounding areas. In Florida, Miami-Dade County was one of the few places in the country that saw a significant increase in the vote for Obama over what he got in 2008. The Democratic ground game beat the Republican voter-suppression game.
Of course the larger cities tend to have larger black and Latino populations, as well as being more liberal culturally than rural areas. The Republican Party now has become a party of the exurbs and small towns (albeit financed by highly cosmopolitan financial interests on Wall Street and elsewhere). So, underneath the clear regional split (Northeast and West Coast versus South, Plains, and Rockies) we can see the cultural split within every state. That’s reflected in the religious dimension: evangelical Christians went 80-20 for Romney, and white Catholics went 60-40 for Romney, while those declaring no religion went 70 percent for Obama (Washington Post, November 8 2012).
Obama won, but he’s still only President of half the country. And he faces a Congress that will be as divided as it was before. The Democrats could not take advantage of the low approval ratings for Congress: they’ve gained only a few seats in the highly gerrymandered House. They have strengthened their Senate majority, largely due to Republicans follies ranging from freezing out Olympia Snow to Tea Party extremism in Missouri and Indiana. The ingredients are there for continued gridlock.
Obama will have some leverage because he was reelected, and maybe because he’s not running for reelection. But his narrow victory scarcely gives him a mandate. Anything he accomplishes in the next term will have to be fought for. And the first order of business will be avoiding the Fiscal Cliff that he and Congress put in place when they couldn’t agree on fiscal policy last year. Will they be more successful this time? Stay tuned.
Posted: Thursday, 8 November 2012