Wednesday, November 7, 2012

US Presidential election: Towards a cliff hanger

The Daily Sun
November, 6, 2012 
M. Serajul Islam

With less than a day to go for the Presidential elections, US voters have equal chance of re-electing a President or sending to the White House for the first time a Mormon Christian according to media predictions. In the latest opinion poll, the candidates are tied at 48% each among the voters nationally.  However, in the swing states that are expected to determine the results, the President is faring better.  Nevertheless, analysts are taking the tie at the national level and the momentum of Governor Romney in the swing states in closing the gap to predict that this election will be a cliff hanger. Some commentators are thus looking into unusual factors of history to predict the winner. One analyst dug out the victory of little known US President to predict a likely winner.  

In the election of 1845, James K Polk, a Democrat won the White House despite losing North Carolina, his state of birth and Tennessee, where he lived and worked. That feat was a rarity and he was the only presidential candidate to have gone to the White House without carrying his state of birth and his home state. In this year’s election, Mitt Romney is trailing the President in Michigan, his state of birth by 6 percentage point and by a wider double digit margin in Massachusetts, the state where he lived and was Governor. Therefore Governor Romney will have to achieve a historical rarity to win the White House if he loses both the states which appears likely. The two states together have 27 electoral votes or 10% of the total of 270 needed to win. 

These two states will have a significant bearing on the outcome of the election although Mitt Romney could still win the election even if he loses both these states. Nevertheless, the need of carrying home state/state of work is very important in a US Presidential election. In 2000, Al Gore would have become President if he had not failed to carry his home state of Tennessee. The President is also leading in 21 of the 27 swing states in polls released 72 hours before the polls. In the critically important of the swing of battle ground states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania the President has the edge. In Ohio, the President has a 6 point lead and in Pennsylvania, 4 point.  The fact that no Republican candidate has gone to the White House in recent times without these two states gives the President’s team hope. The President has also a slight lead in Florida. The Romney team is basing their hopes on the fact that they have closed the gap in the key battle ground states and succeeded in taking the President’s lead within the margin of error in many of the key swing states and that leading to Election Day, the momentum is on their side.

The President and the Governor have rested their case, both fatigued and on the verge of losing their voices in what is turning out to be one of the most fiercely fought presidential election in memory.   Both candidates have accepted, the President reluctantly, that voters will take the health of the economy as the yardstick for casting their votes. The President has told the voters that they can trust him; that he has got a grip of the economy and that his economic policies are on the right track. He has stated that the latest unemployment figure of 7.9% and a job creation figure of 1, 75,000 for October are positive signs of the economy coming out of the recession. He has also used the IMF’s latest report on the World Economy that has mentioned that in the next 4 years, the US economy would grow at 3% and become the strongest among the developed economies. President Obama has sought another term to carry forward the positive economic trends. 

Governor Romney has stated that the unemployment rate of 7.9% is not good enough. It indicated that the economy is stagnating. He also deplored the general health of the economy that he said continued to remain in recession. He faulted the President’s administration as a high spender and his tax policies as impediments to business and investment. He turned around a key and successful Obama campaign theme of the 2008 election and used it as an arsenal to attack his candidature with some degree of sarcasm. He said that the President promised “change” but failed to change anything. He asked support of the voters so that his administration could achieve the change that the President had promised with his policies that have at the core a small government that will take the country forward. 

The President’s better standing in the swing states have largely been ignored by many political analysts and commentators who are predicting that this election will be a cliff hanger. They believe that the economy will motivate many voters to conclude that the economy is not improving under the President and a change is needed to take the United States out of its worst economic predicament in many decades. Under the early system of voting, nearly 27 million voters have already cast their votes in 34 states. In the early voting, President Obama has fared better than his opponent in several key states. These are popular votes and there is no way to know how these votes will translate into electoral votes until the voting is completed. Nevertheless, the indication of the early voting has failed to encourage  the media to predict an outcome favourable to the President and are convinced that the election will go down to the wires.

One commentator has written a piece that just about highlights the fact that the political analysts have run out of ideas, ways and methods, to predict a winner. Writing for The Telegraph, Charles Moore has predicted that Governor Romney will win the election because of the many gaffes he made during the campaign! He believed that each of his “gaffes” ironically reflected a truth that few were inclined to reveal, let alone question. He wrote that through these gaffes he touched base with a large number of voters who have distanced themselves with the President because they thought he entered the race believing the second term is his and he has to just go through the process. They also think he is too professorial and intellectual for their liking. 

Charles Moore has also written that the President has lost his “heroic status” status that helped him win the last election and people are “now seeing beyond the simple, wonderful fact that a black man can be elected President.” The writer referred to the gaffes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and how their gaffes eventually took them to the top political post in their respective country. He concluded that the same will happen with Mitt Romney’s “gaffes!”

The writer is a former  Ambassador to Japan and retired Secretary.

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