American voters' dilemma

Updated: 2012-11-10 08:07

By Liu Weidong (China Daily)

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Obama elected to White House for second term not as a popular candidate but because people distrust Romney more than him

US President Barack Obama has been re-elected for another fours years after beating Republican rival Mitt Romney in what many thought would be a close race for the White House but which turned out to be an easy win for the incumbent president in the end because of Electoral College votes.

Obama had a natural advantage as incumbent president and was ahead of Romney in the polls in the initial stages of the election campaign. But Romney began to catch up because of his excellent performance in the first presidential debate. Though Obama performed much better in the other two debates, he couldn't take a comfortable lead in the opinion polls.

Obama's re-election, however, was in line with the majority of American people's expectation. Most observers believed the US economy would be the most dominant subject in the election. It was. But the blame for the economic mess that the US finds itself in should be on Obama's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, not the current US administration. And although Obama hasn't been able to change the overall situation much, he has taken measures to get the economy back on its feet. Generally speaking, the US economy is performing better than it did four years ago.

Romney thought that his brilliant record as a businessman would help him win the US presidency, but the situation turned out differently because his image as a wealthy American who is not transparent about his income and tax payment cost him dear.

In domestic and diplomatic issues, too, Obama won more voters' support. The healthcare reform he vigorously promoted may have created a controversy, but it won the support of the Supreme Court in June, and greatly benefited the middle class and lower-income group. His tax reform was challenged by big businesspeople but supported by the middle class. His immigration policy won the support of minorities without offending the mainstream population.

In diplomacy, Obama garnered more support than Romney. The killing of Osama bin Laden, the decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the support for the "Arab Spring" in the Middle East and North Africa are seen as some of his administration's achievements.

In the later stages of the election campaign, what mattered more was the candidates' organizational capacity. The Democratic Party has a large electorate base but its supporters are not enthusiastic voters, while the Republican Party has a comparatively small supporters' base but very enthusiastic voters.

Obama's campaign team took the vital decision to energize all its supporters to cast their ballots to ensure victory for the incumbent president. The team encouraged supporters to vote in advance to avoid long queues, and got 181 celebrities, including Obama, to canvass before the voting day.

Despite all this, the opinion polls showed that almost half the voters still supported Romney.

In US politics, there is something called the "October Miracle", which means an event before the actual voting day could change the election result. For Obama, Hurricane Sandy was that miracle. A few days before voting day Hurricane Sandy swept through the US east coast, giving Obama an excellent opportunity to show his leadership qualities.

He immediately canceled his election campaign and jumped into relief and rescue operations. That gave him a vital opportunity to promote the Democratic Party's "big government" idea. Even Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a hard-core Romney ally, praised Obama for his leadership. Last-minute support also came from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who until then was neutral.

Before voting day, almost all neutral polling agencies except the Republican's own gave Obama a slight lead. In the end, Obama romped home quite comfortably because of his lead in the Electoral College votes, although he won only 1 percent more popular votes than Romney.

The result, to a certain extent, reflects the dilemma of American voters. They do not like Obama that much, but at the same time they cannot trust Romney. In such a situation, they had no choice but to choose one of the two. Now that Obama has been re-elected, it's back to square one.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies, affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily 11/10/2012 page5)