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Roundtable: What the Election Results Mean

Academics

Roundtable: What the Election Results Mean

The 2012 elections are history. Here's what we think.

Did Occupy Wall Street provide the campaign’s subtext?

During the recent campaign Occupy Wall Street seemed to have disappeared completely. In fact, Occupy lurked just below the surface. Mitt Romney’s infamous remark that 47 percent of Americans are irresponsible mooches was an unhappy echo of Occupy’s 99 percent. When the GOP nominee later insisted that he cared about 100 percent of Americans, he nullified Occupy’s distinction between the 1 percent and the rest — just as his tax plan promised across-the-board cuts for all Americans, including the top 1 percent.

Obama insisted that the economy was recovering and that Wall Street had been reformed, so he had no reason to embrace Occupy. Yet his tax proposal embodies Occupy’s basic principle by favoring the 98 percent over the 2 percent of wealthiest Americans. Finally, Obama trumped Romney by taking seriously another ignored percentage of the American people — the huge number who don’t vote.

According to the New York Times, the president’s campaign secretly brought together a team of behavioral scientists who precisely identified pro-Obama demographic groups, which were then targeted for voter registration. On Election Day, the Romney campaign “saw voters they never even knew existed” clinch Obama’s victory. Call it the revenge of the 47 percent, or perhaps the fulfillment of Occupy’s promise to mobilize the unrepresented.

- Cyrus Veeser

Empathy and Engagement Carried the Day

America re-elected the “good enough” president: emotionally authentic, tolerant of uncertainty, adaptive to change, and accepting of his own limitations and imperfections in the face of constant change.

The key words for this election are passion, engagement, diversity and empathy. President Obama’s detached aloofness in the first debate changed the nature of the race, enabling Gov. Romney to move dramatically to the center, presenting himself as a reasonable and plausible manager ready to take over and fix the economy. In response, Obama found his voice and passion that enabled him to prevail in the remaining two debates. His openly expressed compassion for the victims of Hurricane Sandy alongside Republican Governor Chris Christie — one his fiercest critics — built on his capacity to rise above politics and reach out to those in need. In his speeches he empathized with the anxieties of those still struggling in an slow-growth economy. Underlying these surface dynamics of the last weeks of the campaign was the increasingly diverse Obama coalition. His well-developed ground operation turned them out in large numbers. They represent the future of his party, and indeed the country.

- Aaron Nurick

A Cold Shower for Everyone

The Electoral College results were a cold shower for Republicans and their message. They need to rethink their dismissal of women, gays and Hispanics — “self-deportation” is not a winning strategy.

But Democrats will have no honeymoon either. The Dow’s drop the day after the election signals deep distress over the looming budget showdown over automatic spending cuts and tax increases. President Obama needs to reach across the aisle - not just to New Jersey but in Washington - to bring people together to solve this “fiscal cliff” problem and then tackle immigration. He has a brief window of time where folks are motivated to get something done, put aside partisan rhetoric and still remember that the American people are sick of gridlock and excuses.

Obama is building his legacy now and the Republicans are trying to build a road for 2016. It is in both their interests to work together.

- Bev Earle

Stormy Weather Brings Winds of Change?

What irony. A campaign where both major presidential candidates downplayed or ignored climate change ended just as “Superstorm Sandy” wreaked havoc in one of America’s most densely populated areas. While we tussled over spending cuts and revenue, Mother Nature just added perhaps $30 - $50 billion to our national tab.

Although Sandy’s destructive power cannot be attributed specifically to global climate change, it raised the issue in the minds of many voters and local government officials to the level that it belonged throughout the campaign. A campaign that talked about environmental protection only as a threat to economic growth suddenly seemed out of whack with what was taking place before our eyes. More importantly, the storm highlighted the growing need to protect our coastal communities and plan for the threats posed by stronger storms and sea-level rise accompanying global climate change.

Other problems loom — the budget deficit, spending, taxation, and all the rest. But along with that, President Obama and Congress will have to take serious bipartisan action to promote technological innovation that addresses climate change and protects our coasts and other resources. If they don’t, we will find the cost of more violent weather heavy indeed.

- Rick Oches

Birth Control Access No Longer an Issue

As analysis of this election continues, most analysts agree that women were the deciding factor. But to me, the outcome shows that access and availability of birth control are no longer open to partisan or ideological debate.

Older female voters of my mother’s generation fought too hard to lose publicly funded birth control or legal abortion. My generation recognizes that our professional success depends on medical advancements that improved the safety and variety of birth control. Younger women rely on and expect unfettered access to birth control and emergency contraception. The issue crosses all generations, generations who are ready and willing to cast their ballot to protect their rights.

For candidates, the writing was on the wall. Ninety-eight percent of sexually active women have used birth control; women from all political parties, income levels, education levels and religions.  And for us, guaranteed birth control access and affordability makes economic sense for our households, for public and private medical plans, and for employers. The majority of all Americans — 82 percent — believe that birth control should be freely available to all women who cannot afford it. Now, maybe the majority of politicians will believe it, too.  

- Traci Abbott

To Win, GOP Needs a Reboot

Mitt Romney won 24 states, but only one by a margin of less than 8 percent. That’s a stunningly unlikely result that reflects the sharp polarization of a country divided between red and blue states. 

The election was an even bigger loss for the Republican Party as a whole. The GOP is increasingly a party of working-class whites who live in smaller cities and rural areas, doing especially well in Appalachia and the Ozarks. The Democrats are the party of minorities, and also well-educated professionals in cities like Boston, New York, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

To see how our politics are evolving, consider the diverging paths of Virginia and West Virginia. In 1996 Bill Clinton won West Virginia by 15 points over Bob Dole, but lost Virginia. This time Romney beat President Obama by an astounding 27 points in working-class West Virginia, but lost Virginia (a much bigger prize), mostly due to Obama’s showing in the affluent suburbs of Washington, DC. Even Romney’s huge margin among white voters nationwide wasn’t enough, as their share of the electorate fell to only 72 percent. 

Look for the GOP to recalibrate to make itself more attractive to a part of the Democratic coalition &mdash ;perhaps Latinos. But how long will it take them to figure this out?

- Scott Sumner

Now, Reach Across the Aisle

Stalemate or mandate? After a roughly $6-plus billion campaign barrage that, in essence, maintained the status quo, our country is still faced with a slowly improving but shaky economy, a looming “fiscal cliff” with the impending expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and automatic spending cuts to the military and social services, a polarized Congress, where gridlock seems preferable to compromise, growing tensions in the Middle East, and increased realization of the dangers of climate change, among many, many other challenges.

While the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy showcased Obama’s compassion, leadership and ability to reach out to political critics, he will need all those skills and capabilities to weather Hurricane 2013. As close as the popular vote was, the outcome indicates that the people believe in Obama’s leadership and his potential to guide bipartisan solutions to these problems. The key question, now that Mitch McConnell and his colleagues have fallen short of their goal to make Obama a one-term president, is whether Republicans, along with their Democratic counterparts in both the House and the Senate, will reach across the aisle to work together to resolve these problems.

- Tony Buono

The Luxury of a Second-Term President

While I admit to some curiosity about what a Mitt Romney presidency may have looked like, I am looking forward to the luxury of a second-term president who will not have to think about a re-election campaign. Obama was merely pointing out the obvious when he was “caught” saying that after the election he would have more flexibility. "After the election" has finally come.

I also appreciated the red- and blue-striped tie Mitt Romney wore as he addressed not just his supporters, but the whole nation after calling to congratulate President Obama. I’m going to wear red and blue today, too. My next vote is for a return to respectful discourse.

- Diane Kellogg

Election Night: Social Networks Beat TV

On election night, instead of channel-flipping, I relied on Twitter and Facebook to learn results as they came in. I quite preferred the straight-up information, such as which states were called for which candidate in real time. I also enjoyed the instant analysis and subsequent commenting of friends, colleagues, and even strangers.

Every good story was at my fingertips. I didn't need a television to learn about Karl Rove’s awkward meltdown on Fox News over the network’s (rightful) call on Ohio — it was instantly uploaded to YouTube. Instead of hours-long talking by the “usual suspects” on TV, social media gave me frenzied discussions, debates, fascinating commentary, and analysis between passionate people on all sides of the issues
 
On Twitter, the #election2012 hashtag was chirping at an unreadable rate — but I could visually isolate multiple streams of information. I learned about important ballot questions and results in other states, newly elected female candidates, the first openly lesbian senator — news items typically not relayed on mainstream news channels in any great detail. There was also plenty of reaction on Twitter soon after President Obama's feed tweeted "Four More Years," apparently besting Justin Bieber as the most popular retweet of all time.

The advantage of following an event such as a presidential election is how micro-blogging sites yield real-time discussion at the macro level, with an enormous slice of the electorate taking part. Even trolls or extreme commentary sparked reaction by others to participate. Social media is certainly showing that real progress is possible, with a future of reasoned debate on the horizon.
 
- Elizabeth LeDoux
 

The Pollsters Won

President Obama won Tuesday in a close contest. The field of data analytics may have scored a more decisive victory. While many polling organizations had good results, it was the analysts who aggregate data from many polls, like Nate Silver at www.http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/, who were spot on. The fact that these methods proved so accurate is good news for statisticians, but the way in which polls were routinely misinterpreted by the public and many media members means that we have a lot of work left to do as educators! The perception that the race was a toss-up in the final days made for a great story, but that was not consistent with a great volume of data which indicated that a win for Governor Romney was highly unlikely.

 - Richard Cleary

Comments

Voters approved gay marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington and shot down anti-gay legislation in Minnesota. A huge shift is happening that I believe will slowly make it across the country.

Mr. Sumner - it sounds like you're recommending that the party move to where the votes are? I think this might be part of the Republicans problem - embrace the Christians and we'll get their vote. Well that didn't work. We need more political parties and healthy competition.

George, I'd much prefer a parliamentary system with more than two parties. Romney was a poor fit for the GOP, and in Europe probably would have opted for a centrist party. He's the one who first passed an "ObamaCare" bill. I voted for one of the third parties, so I'm doing my part. But it's tough for a third party in a "winner-take-all" system.

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