Event ReportsPublished on Sep 13, 2012
Following the two national conventions held by the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, the race to the White House has gained more steam. It was an opportune time to take the debate on the US Presidential election
Statistics indicate a historical result in the US elections

Following the two national conventions held by the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, the race to the White House has gained more steam. It was an opportune time to take the debate on the US Presidential election forward and Observation Research Foundation organised a well-timed talk by Mr. Bruce Stokes, the Director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center to assess the vital facts and figures concerning the election and to show a picture as to where the Presidential election was heading.

In view of the statistical indicators for voting patterns, President Barack Obama has the lowest ever approval rating of any incumbent nominee, with the Republican candidate Mr. Mitt Romney having the lowest ratings of a challenger. The upcoming election is thus shaping up to be momentous either way.

Mr. Stokes began his presentation with the consideration that only 63% of the population on average votes in the US election, and just as in 2008, women and young people are set to play an increasingly important role in tilting the balance. Recent years have seen a polarisation of political agendas. And, statistics show that the political polarisation is more apparent in the Republican Party where majority of the members identify themselves as conservatives, than in the Democratic Party, where only 38% see themselves as liberals.

This is reflected in the fact that people who identified themselves as Republicans were less inclined toward compromise. On the other hand, the figures from the People-Press 2012 Values Survey showed that both Democrats and Independents were happier to have political leaders who are willing to make compromises in order to get the job done.

Although Mr Obama is marginally ahead in the opinion polls, Mr. Stokes nevertheless emphasised the need to consider the fact that young voters are less engaged than they were in 2008. The sluggish economic recovery in the United States and the lack of jobs there is a major cause of concern for the Obama campaign. No US President has ever been re-elected with this high an unemployment rate. With less than 41% of the population in 2012, believing that their financial situation is excellent or good, the public perception of Obama’s economic policies does not bode well for the President’s chances at re-election.

Mr. Stokes then shed light on the bifurcation of the American society over the issue of government spending vs. deficit reduction. In the classic austerity vs. spending debate, women are more inclined towards spending to help the economy grow, whereas men lean towards reducing the budget deficit. Certain Romney voters too fall under the austerity umbrella, and certain Obama supporters favour spending to boost the economic revival. He then went on to highlight some inherent contradictions in people’s perceptions as shown by the People-Press 2012 Values Survey. The survey showed 57% arguing that government regulation over businesses does more harm than good, but at the same time 63% were found contending that free market economy needs regulation by the government to protect public interests.

The American voting procedure often boils down to the way certain states vote. Mr. Stokes was clear to point out that whereas some states are solid Obama states such as California and Illinois, states such as Texas and Georgia are solidly Republican states where Democratic campaigning would be futile. And, that ’swing’ states with high electoral votes such as Florida usually decide the election. Polls taken in July/August by the New York Times show that amongst the swing states, Romney only has a clear advantage in Colorado, with Obama marginally ahead in Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, and quite significantly ahead in Pennsylvania.

Voters in the swing states resoundingly believed that the economy is the most important issue, and most felt that Mr. Romney would do a better job on economic recovery. However, on issues such as national security and health care, Mr. Obama held a clear advantage, thus accounting for his marginal lead in opinion polls. So, although the public feels that Mr. Obama may not be the best person to handle the country’s biggest problem i.e. the economy, they also feel, at the same time, that Mr. Romney may not be the right person to manage other important issues as foreign policy.

Regarding people’s attitude towards America’s international involvement, 60% feel that US troops should be removed from Afghanistan; while 63% believe that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nukes, even if it means starting another war. Thus, showing an inconsistency where the American populace may be ready to go to war, but haven’t really thought about its consequences. With regard to Syria, only 32% favour ground troops, the majority support giving military aid to the rebels and enforcing a no-fly zone.

The race for the White House is set to be a compelling election, with voters above 65 years of age leaning slightly towards Mr. Romney, and young people aged 18-29 clearly in favour of Mr. Obama. It will boil down to people between the ages of 30-65 who are pretty evenly split. In considering personal traits Mr. Obama has a clear advantage as people see him as more engaged with the lives of ordinary Americans, as more honest and truthful, as more likely to take consistent positions, and to have better judgement in a crisis.

Dr. C. Raja Mohan, who chaired the proceedings rounded off the talk by commenting on how most people who are engaged in international relations and security studies are interested and affected by the U.S presidential election, but lack the clear statistical and factual data that Mr. Stokes was able to provide. He also noted the changing dynamics of American policy which was shifting its focus inwards, to concentrate on nation building at home rather than overseas.

(This report is prepared by Kartikeya Khanna, Research Intern, with Observer Research Foundation)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.