How Obama Won and What it Means

November 7, 2012     
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President Barack Obama’s reelection, despite the weaknesses in his record, points to the future of American society. What we have witnessed tonight is the politics of the old and the politics of the new, at the same time. Obama’s victory shows how traditional political actors and new arrivals are, together, shaping power. The Republican ticket lost, quite simply, because it left too many behind and it ignored too many new arrivals.

The politics of old is the continuing power of the Rustbelt states filled with traditional auto workers, teachers, small town business-owners, and middle-income retirees. These mostly white voters came out in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa to give President Obama the key votes he needed for reelection. He promised empathy and fairness, rather than the managerial flash offered by the wealthy CEO of Bain Capital. Wall Street might attract elite college graduates from fancy universities, but it does not command popular support from the center of the country, and it probably never will.

The politics of the new is the arrival of so many untraditional voters in presidential elections. These are Latino citizens in California, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, and Ohio. Soon Latino voters will shape outcomes in Texas and Arizona too. The more vocal voters also include women, especially educated and professional women, who have become a larger part of the electorate than men. Young voters are also making their voices heard, many voting for the first time in this election.

President Obama won the overwhelming majority of all of these “new” voters, as did many other Democratic Senate candidates in Massachusetts and Indiana. The Republicans ignored and often alienated most of these voters. Mitt Romney is probably the least popular presidential candidate among women and minority voters since Barry Goldwater almost fifty years ago.

Politics is always about strange bedfellows. For all the talk of partisan divides, the real story is about the new combinations and partnerships emerging before our eyes. Rustbelt workers, women, Latinos, and the youth are the new center of gravity in American politics. President Obama brought these groups together with great success in the 2012 presidential election. The question now is if he can covert this coalition into a force for effective governance. President Obama’s skills in leveraging the mix of the old and the new will define his second term, and the future of our country.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.

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