Outcome of election unclear
Updated: 2012-09-10 08:15
By Steven Hill (China Daily)
China bashing will still be the card candidates of both parties play to win over voters in swing states for final victory
The US presidential race is heating up as President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney hurtle toward their date with destiny on Nov 6, 2012. This election will decide many crucial issues such as the economic policy and social safety net in, and even the foreign policy of, the United States.
At times, China has been a focal point in the presidential campaign. With China also going through a leadership change this fall, the US election could set the tone for US-China relations for years to come.
Most opinion polls have given Obama a modest lead over Romney in three critical battleground states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. While there are still two months to go, the Obama campaign has been giving out high-fives over this news. But why should polls from only three of the 50 US states cause such jubilation in the Obama camp?
For starters, no candidate has won the presidency without winning two of these three states since 1960. The memorable 2000 presidential election, in which George W. Bush won a controversial victory over Al Gore, was decided by only a few hundred votes in Florida. And the 2004 election, in which Bush was re-elected, was decided by a close race in Ohio.
To really understand the importance of these three states in the upcoming election - and why anti-China sentiment may play a role for the winning candidate - it's necessary to understand how the US presidential election works. Contrary to public perception, the US presidential election is not a "national" election. It's an election of 50 individual state contests, plus the District of Columbia (the nation's capital), each of which is allotted a certain number of electoral votes in the Electoral College that corresponds roughly to its population. The more populous the state, the more electoral votes it has.
Any competent political analyst can predict which candidate will win about 40 of the 50 states. That's because most of these states are solidly blue (Democrat) or red (Republican). States like California, New York and Illinois are blue, and states like Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma red.
That means that the presidential election is decided by a handful of battleground states - in nine states to be precise. But not all swing states are equal -three of them are heavyweights. Here's how the electoral math works out. Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio have 29, 20 and 18 electoral votes. The other six battleground states are New Hampshire (4 seats), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), Colorado (9), Wisconsin (10) and Virginia (13).
So a candidate would have to win several of the smaller states to make up for the loss of either Florida or Ohio or Pennsylvania. If a candidate wins all the three big swing states, the game's over. In fact, winning any two of them would be enough for a candidate. With Pennsylvania leaning towards Obama, this election may very well come down to Florida and Ohio, just as the elections in 2000 and 2004 did. It looks as if voters in Florida and Ohio are going to decide the US presidency.
That's why the Obama camp celebrated when the poll results were declared. But these are relatively early times and Obama shouldn't get complacent. The biggest problem for Obama is the economy.
The Romney camp blames Obama for the stuttering economy, and Obama is vulnerable on this front. As part of their attack on Obama's economic management, and as a way to drive away labor union support from Obama in manufacturing swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have accused the US president of not being tough enough on China.
Romney has called China a "cheater" in trade, a "manipulator" of currency and a "stealer" of US technology and patents. He has called Obama the "outsourcer-in-chief" for sending jobs to low-wage countries such as China and India, and promised to crack down on China if he is elected.
Obama's defense has been to blame the economy on his predecessor, George W Bush, and claim that if Romney is elected he will return to the failed policies of Bush that led to the economic collapse in 2008. While Obama has not resorted to China bashing as much as Romney, his campaign released an advertisement claiming Romney made a fortune outsourcing American jobs to China while he was at the helm of the hedge fund company Bain Capital.
No doubt, both sides will continue to play the China card to boost their campaigns. Despite the Obama administration's successful complaint to the World Trade Organization against China, the US trade deficit with China stands at $91.6 billion for the first four months of 2012, according to the US Department of Commerce. That could prompt Romney and Ryan to launch another round of "China-bashing".
But since the election will be decided in a handful of battleground states, both candidates are looking to target the swing states with their campaign missiles, including their anti-China rhetoric. What's even more alarming is that only a handful of undecided voters in the swing states will decide who the next US president will be. Recent polls show only 6 percent American voters remain undecided about whom to support.
So who are these 6 percent of the voters? One political consultant has described them as swing voters. "Those are the ones that are least interested and least knowledgeable about politics, who don't tune in until the last few days of the campaign, and if you don't catch them in 8 seconds with your TV ads that slash and burn you've lost them." In such an atmosphere, the anti-China tirade is likely to keep popping up on America's TV sets and the Internet.
Therefore, the most powerful elected leader in the world will actually be chosen by a handful of clueless voters in a handful of US states. Despite all that is at stake, not even 60 percent of eligible American voters are likely to cast their ballots. Given how much difference the American president makes to countries across the world, many non-American friends have told me that people from other countries should be allowed to vote to elect the US president. Imagine if people in China were allowed to vote in the US presidential election. They probably would turn out in higher numbers than the Americans.
The author is a political writer. His latest books are 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy: 2012 Election Edition and Europe's Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age.
(China Daily 09/10/2012 page10)