Thursday, 15 November 2012

Some Central American country has had an election

Some central American country has had a presidential election and the incumbent, widely characterised in the U.S.A. as a socialist despot, has been returned.

I am of course talking about the U.S.A., not Venezuela.

A lot of people have discussed and analysed the result of the Obama - Romney contest, often perceptively. I'm not going to second-guess them, but just look at three things.

First, commentators keep saying certain states - especially Ohio - are key determinants. We should remember that the political balance in most states is constantly changing, both because of changes within that state such as a decline of heavy industry or an influx of prosperous retirees or Latino immigrants, and because the nature of the Democrat/Republican divide is always shifting. Social-economic factors probably count for less, and questions of social attitude for more, than they did not long ago, which may account for states like West Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee moving away from the Democrats while Virginia, Colorado and California move towards them. Not so long ago California was a crucial marginal state and any Democrat not easily winning West Virginia was in big trouble. Of all Obama's wins, Ohio was the second closest: he could have won quite easily without it and a tiny shift would have meant just that, so the comfortable wisdom that Ohio always decides it may be on the way out.

Secondly, observing how close the results were in Florida and Ohio (a swing to the Republicans of 0.5% would have won them Florida, and a swing of 1% in Ohio would have been enough) I wondered if despite Obama's eventual healthy lead in the popular vote (misrepresented by many commentators commenting before the big Democratic votes of California and the other Pacific seaboard states were counted) Romney might actually have won on a tiny shift. However, a closer look dispelled this impression. Because Obama hoovered up (Roosevelted up?) states like Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as small states like New Hampshire and Nevada, he could have won without either Ohio or Florida. The next closest state in Obama's column was Virginia, and there a 1.5% swing would have been needed. Even that would have left Obama the winner. To lose he would have had to surrender all those first three states plus the fourth closest win for him, Colorado - and that would have required a 2.4% swing to the Republicans and for Romney to win the state while his comrades were losing control of the state legislature.

Thirdly, I thought about the choices of running mates. Both seemed questionable. Romney, like McCaine a moderate Republican, like McCaine assuaged his party's carnivores with a hard-line running-mate. McCaine probably thought his choice a stroke of genius with woman voters angry at Obama for defeating their champion Hilary: in fact Palin was a liability. Governor Ryan of Wisconsin is a less ignorant hard-liner, but he couldn't even carry his own quite marginal state and as for motivating Republican hard-liners, they surely so hated Obama that they would have voted anyway; while the idea of Ryan a heartbeat from the presidency disturbed moderates.

No such concern hangs around the veteran foreign-policy specialist long-time senator Joe Biden. However, the reasons why he seemed a good choice for Obama's running-mate in 2008 seemed to count for less this time. He brought experience to balance Obama's inexperience - but whatever you think of Obama, he certainly had a lot more experience by 2012! Biden brought age to balance youth - but by 2012 grey-haired Obama seemed more than four years older! He brought "blue-collar" (working-class) credibility to the rather academic and unearthy Obama running against a populist war hero - but although this still counted, in 2012 Obama was running against a Mormon millionaire and blue-collar voters might have been less inclined to defect. Biden's state, Delaware, is tiny and safely Democratic. Obama could have approached a Marine veteran Virginia senator, for example, but he stuck with Biden, who could have been offered the Secretaryship of State Hilary Clinton has said she's vacating. Maybe he was right, because most people thought Biden ran rings round Ryan in their debate.

Do you get the impression I'm fascinated by the politics of this obscure central American country? Well, I am, and frustrated too by the gridlocks and the power of vested interests. Maybe it needs an American invasion to sort things out.

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