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US Election 2012: What Does Obama's Victory Mean For Cameron, Minorities And TV Debates?

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OBAMA AND CAMERON
Is President Obama's victory good for David Cameron? | PA

Here are five things worth considering about the US presidential election result: Is Obama's victory good for David Cameron or Ed Miliband? Is there a case for electoral reform? Do debates matter? How 'new' is the 'new America'? And where is Marco Rubio?

IS IT GOOD FOR THE TORIES?

As my colleague Ned Simons put it in the Morning Memo earlier today: "President Obama's reelection is a good thing for David Cameron/Ed Miliband and a bad thing for Ed Miliband/David Cameron, depending on how you interpret the result."

Well, there's been a great deal of "interpreting" (spinning?) of the US election result here in London over the past day or two - and of Obama's rhetoric, too. Cameron pointed to the president's use of the Gideon-esque "we're all in this together" phrase; Labour responded by pointing to Obama's deployment of the Miliband-esque "One Nation" mantra.

My own view is that the re-election of Obama, in the long run, will be better for Labour than for the Conservatives. After all, you only need to consider what the reaction would have been had Mitt Romney (and deficit-hawk-in-chief Paul Ryan) won on Tuesday: Tory right-wingers and their deficit-obsessed cheerleaders in the media would have been hailing the result as an endorsement for austerity: for lots and lots of cuts, as soon as possible. A Romney victory would have been a "disaster" for Labour's economic narrative, agrees a senior Labour strategist.

In his column today, the Spectator's political editor James Forsyth writes: "It is the Tories who will gain the most succour from his victory: the cycle of incumbent losses has now been broken." But the fact that both Obama and Cameron are incumbents is, frankly, irrelevant - the bigger issue is what the two men did with their first terms in office. Obama went for growth; Cameron didn't. The latter is the Austerity Prime Minister; the former is the Stimulus President.

In fact, Obama's $787bn stimulus package helped the US economy avert a second Great Depression and enabled him to preside over a period of economic growth and job creation. As shadow chancellor Ed Balls never tires of telling us, the US took a different road under Obama, delaying cuts and going for growth; since 2010, the US economy has grown by 3.9% while the UK economy has grown by just 0.6%.

Expect more of the same from Balls and co in the coming months, especially as the Obama administration turns its attention towards avoiding January's so-called 'fiscal cliff' - the $600bn package of spending cuts and tax rises agreed by Congress. Any quotes from the president about the need for jobs and growth over immediate cuts and deficit reduction will be manna from heaven for the Labour Party and make the chancellor squirm in his seat.

The prime minister, however, was quick off the mark to try and claim the Obama victory for the Conservatives and the coalition. "I was very struck by the fact that Barack had been saying it's a hard road but we're on the right track," Cameron said yesterday. "And a government that's worked hard to deliver economic recovery can be re-elected … I do think: right track, hard road but if you deliver on the economy you can win re-election I think is an important message."

Of course, the key bit is "if you deliver on the economy". If. So far, he and Osborne haven't. Lest we forget, Obama produced a (weak) recovery; Dave and Gideon gave us a double-dip recession.

A couple of other points that Labour strategists are making to one another, in private:

1) "Obama won because Romney was effectively framed as [being] on the side of the few, not the many," says a senior party figure, pointing to the Republican's now-notorious comments about "the 47%". Cameron's decision to cut the 50p top rate of tax earlier this year has since enabled Labour to frame the Tories in a similar manner.

2) A close ally of Ed Miliband points out that, in light of the US election result, Cameron and Osborne's lead over Miliband and Balls on the economy may not be all that it's cracked up to be. The exit polls on Tuesday showed Romney enjoying a (narrow) lead over Obama on the issue of which candidate voters trusted to manage the economy yet it was Obama who nonetheless won the popular vote. (The president, incidentally, smashed his Republican rival by a 10-point margin on the issue of which candidate voters considered to be “in touch” with average Americans; Ed Miliband enjoys a similar lead over Cameron on the "in touch" issue.)

Regardless of Cameron and Obama's personal friendship, and recent bonding over basketball and burgers, the simple fact is that a centre-left politician with a basic grasp of Keynesian economics was re-elected to run the world's biggest economy this week. As a jubilant shadow cabinet minister told me last night: "The conventional wisdom that in tough times people vote for right-of-centre parties has been flipped by [Francois] Hollande and, now, Obama."

DEBATING THE DEBATES

Labour's Douglas Alexander tells the Guardian today that "this campaign reminds us that for all the talk of social media, TV debates matter in elections."

Do they? Remember Cleggmania? The Lib Dem leader's headline-grabbing triumph in the first TV debate of the 2010 general election campaign saw his party, briefly, leading in the polls and resulted in the Liberal Democrats then winning... wait for it... five fewer seats in the general election.

Mitt Romney's much-discussed demolition of a lacklustre and feeble Obama in the first debate of the 2012 presidential campaign gave him a "measurable bounce" in the polls, prompted much talk of "game changers" and then resulted in..well.. you know the rest.

So, do politicians and pundits overestimate the impact of debates? We didn't really need Obama's re-election to confirm that they do. John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington University, wrote in the September/October issue Washington Monthly:

"Scholars who have looked most carefully at the data have found that, when it comes to shifting enough votes to decide the outcome of the election, presidential debates have rarely, if ever, mattered … in the average election year, you can accurately predict where the race will stand after the debates by knowing the state of the race before the debates."

THE CASE FOR ELECTORAL REFORM

"I want to thank every American who participated in this election ... whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time," said Obama in his barnstorming victory speech yesterday morning. "By the way, we have to fix that."

There's a lot more for US politicians to "fix" than long lines and dodgy voting machines. The whole system - with its absurd 'electoral college' - needs overhaul - or outright abolition. 62% of Americans support a national popular vote for the presidency, rather than the use of the electoral college.

The US system is a (bad) joke. But here's my question: shouldn't the Republican Party be leading the charge for voting reform in the United States? After all, you could argue that they got screwed by Obama's 'ground war' in the swing states - so why not let the rest of the country's votes play a role in the process, too?

Lots of Romney supporters have taken to Twitter over the past 24 hours to point out that their man won almost 50% of the vote. Indeed, he did. But why should anyone care about such things if they continue to support a majoritarian system which contains no real mechanism for reflecting the national popular will - and, in 2000, gave the White House to the candidate with the fewer votes?

The same principle applies here in the UK - the Tories moan about the in-built bias towards Labour of the first-past-the-post electoral system: on an equal share of the vote, for example, Her Majesty's Opposition would win more seats than the Conservatives in 2015. Tories also point out that Cameron won fewer Commons seats in 2010 than Tony Blair did in 2005, despite securing a higher share of the vote. And they lament the fact that they have just one seat in Scotland - despite winning 17% of the Scottish vote.

Yet Cameron and his party stubbornly continue to support first-past-the-post and oppose a fairer voting system. Forget boundary reviews - the Conservative Party, like the Republican Party, should embrace proportional representation. Or, alternatively, shut up about the 'unfairness' of it all.

HOW 'NEW' IS THE 'NEW AMERICA'?

"How Obama changed the face of America," reads the headline on the front of today's Daily Telegraph. The Times, in its leader, refers to "the new America that the president now leads".

Can we calm down a bit? The United States of America, with its 300-million-odd residents, didn't transform into a whole different country in a single night just because Barack Obama managed to win a greater number of electoral college votes than Mitt Romney. (If you want to read something really depressing, check out this AP piece on how a new poll shows "a slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not".)

Remember: the turnout was estimated at around 58% (lower than in 2008). Obama's share of the vote is expected to be around 50%, once the counting is well and truly over. That means more than two-thirds of Americans did not vote for Obama.

On a side note, am I the only one baffled by this constant invocation of Obama's "coalition" of three distinct groups: women, minorities and young people? Er, how do we describe a black, young woman? What "group" does she fit into? It's all a bit simplistic and sweeping, don't you think?

I don't dispute the Ruy Teixeira/John B. Judis 'Emerging Democratic Majority' thesis but let's not get carried away and wish America, as a whole, is now something it isn't. Or, for that matter - and see below - assume the Republicans are finished as an electoral force at a presidential level.

WHERE'S MARCO?

Much of the post-election commentary over the past 24-36 hours has revolved around the Republicans' seeming inability in 2012 to represent - that is, look like - modern, ethnically-diverse, female-heavy America. In the words of one GOP strategist, the Republicans lost because they're "a Mad Men party in a Modern Family world".

But, on this purely candidate-obsessed, image-related level, isn't this a rather easy and superficial problem to fix? If, come 2016, the Repubicans recognise the need to deal with their 'Latino problem', they can always call on Marco Rubio, the telegenic, Tea-Party-backed freshman senator from the swing state of Florida, to lead them into battle against Hillary Clinton or A N Other Democrat. Or they could even go with Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and younger, saner brother of Dubya, who happens to be married to a Mexican American and has three half-Mexican kids.

Or, if they really, really want to look radical on race, they could nominate Bobby Jindal, the brown-skinned son of Punjabi immigrants who became governor of Louisiana at the age of 36.

As for women, the GOP has a bunch of ambitious female governors who might want to throw their hats into the ring, including Susana Martinez, America's first female Hispanic-American governor, and Nikki Hayley, America's first Indian-American governor and the youngest governor in the country.

Oh, and there's always Condoleezza Rice, one of America's most high-profile politicians, who happens to be a Republican, a 'moderate', black and female. Tick, tick, tick, tick.

So, if the Republicans lost on Tuesday because Romney and co came across as "too old and too white and too male," in the words of the American Conservative Union's Al Cardenas, then I would argue that's not an insoluble problem. However, if the GOP's real problem is, as I believe, their regressive policies and prejudices - on immigration reform, women's rights, income inequality, etc - then those are much more difficult to tackle in the space of just four years and with this sort of denialism on display.

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