Sunday, August 5, 2012

Swing states could return President Obama to the White House
Daily Sun
August 5th., 2012
M. Serajul Islam 

The fight for the White House is becoming more and more intense with just 100 days or so left for the Presidential election on November 6th. The President is still ahead in most of the country’s opinion polls but only by a whisker. The President and his re-election team are therefore very worried. The economy is their main concern. The 2nd quarter GDP growth rate released last week was 1.5% which is not good enough to bring down unemployment rate from the 8.2% which is bad news for President Obama. There is little chance of the economy improving between now and Election Day for assuring President Obama to return to the White House for another term.  

There is no debate in the USA that it is the economy that will determine whether it would be President Obama or his challenger Governor Mitt Romney who would win on 6th November. In other words, “it is the economy, stupid” that will decide who the next President of the United Sates would be. In respect of the economy, the voters are most concerned with the unemployment figure which is high for a victory for President Obama. In fact, if the figure stands at that on or around November 6th, President Obama would be in real danger of losing the reelection bid. 

However, in the complex equation of numbers that determine outcome of a presidential election in the United States, there is a concept that explains its electoral politics like it does in no other country.  Each of the fifty states is granted electoral votes based on its population to form with the other states, the Electoral College that elects a US President. The voters in each state votes for the candidates and the candidate who wins by a simple majority, takes all the electoral votes of that state in a “winner takes all” system. The candidate who can bag 270 of the 538 electoral votes becomes the President.  

In the United States, the majority of the states are traditionally either Republican or Democrat; in other words either conservative (Republican) or liberal (Democrat).  For instance, the southern states such as Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina are conservative and thus vote Republican. Then there are liberal states such as California, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island that vote traditionally for the Democrat. In the 2000 presidential election, journalist Tim Russert used the Red for the Republican Party and Blue for the Democrats and since then, the colours have been used to divide the US electoral map. Presidential candidates take these states for granted where they spend comparatively less time campaigning as they know they would win or lose in these in states anyway based on their colours. 

Outside these states, there are states where voters are not committed to either of the two main parties based on their conservative or liberal leanings. These are the swing states where the candidates spend most of their time campaigning. These swing states are in the end the states whose Electoral College votes eventually determine which of the candidates go to the White House. These are also the states where the candidates spend most of their time campaigning to win the White House. Often these states are also called the battle ground states. 

There are 12 states that are the swing states for this year’s election.  These are Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Michigan, Nevada, Colorado and North Carolina. It is in these swing states that the election team of President Obama is seeing a glimmer of hope against the gloomy national picture of the economy. In seven of these swing states- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Iowa-, the unemployment figure is below the national average. In Virginia and New Mexico, the unemployment figure is a full 1% less than the national figure. The June unemployment figure in New Hampshire, Virginia and Iowa was just 6%. In Ohio that is a major swing state and where the economy has taken a battering due to the collapse of the manufacturing sector, unemployment figure is at 7.2%, one percentage lower than the national figure. In 4 of the 12 swing states where unemployment figure is over the national figure, the trend is one of decline. 

No candidate has made it to the White House in the last few presidential elections without winning at least 2 of the three swing states, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.  There is more good news for the President from these 3 key states. The national economic gloom notwithstanding, a CBS/NTY/Quinnipiac University poll conducted last week gives President Obama a clear lead in these swing states. "If today were Nov. 6, President Barack Obama would sweep the key swing states," said Peter Brown, Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. 

President Obama had entered the White House with a promise of change that encouraged Americans who were frustrated by 8 years of President Bush when the country was dragged to wars overseas at great human and financial costs that ruined the economy, to vote for him. He had also captured the imagination of the world who expected that he would eventually emerge as a President in the mould of John F Kennedy. The Muslim world expected that he would bring the Muslim and the western worlds closer and would focus seriously on the Palestinian sufferings.  

The President’s only major success in his first term has been in foreign policy but that too partially. He ended US military involvement in Iraq and has set the road map for bringing US troops from Afghanistan, home. He has also delivered to Americans the scalp of OBL and the top Al Qaeda leadership. Unfortunately, foreign policy is not playing any major part in the election and his good work in Iraq and Afghanistan is not going to be of much help to give him a second term. He has also failed to do very little to the Muslim world. On Palestine, he allowed his administration to be dictated by the Israelis. 

His promise to Americans of a better economic future failed although for this he has his predecessor and events outside his hands in Europe to blame. Surprisingly, however,, he failed to hold the  President Bush responsible in a major way for USA’s current economic gloom.  He entered the White House with Abraham Lincoln as his hero. Instead of blaming his predecessor, he extended his arms towards the Republicans trying to build bipartisanship for his administration. Unfortunately, the Republicans hounded him in the most partisan way possible. He had not just won the White House convincingly; he also started his administration with a Democratic majority in both House of the Congress. Under relentless attacks of the Republican, the President wavered in pushing forcefully his election promises to Americans. In the midterm elections for the US Congress in his second year in office; the Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives. Many who voted him to power on his promise of change became disenchanted with him. The President had only himself to blame. Americans do not like a wavering President. 

Recently, President Obama’s health care policy has been given the green signal by the Supreme Court. This will also help his candidature as a large number of hitherto uninsured Americans (nearly 50 million) would be expected to get affordable healthcare under its purview. However without the economy on his side, neither this health care policy nor his successes in foreign affairs can guarantee his return to the White House. 

Therefore the favourable signs in the economy in the swing states, particularly in the context of the unemployment figures, could eventually help President Obama return again to the White House provided the current trend  moves in the right direction for him. Nevertheless, the outcome at this stage is still too close for call. Apart from the economy, the national debates in which the candidates would be locked closer to the election date would also have a major impact on the outcome.

The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt

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