Choice That Impacts the World

02 Nov 2012

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Obama and Romney

On Tuesday, November 6, United States citizens will either re-elect Democratic candidate and US President, Barack Obama, or embrace the change being touted by his Republican challenger, Mr. Mitt Romney. But America’s eventual choice remains a concern to the global community, write Olawale Olaleye, Ademola Adeyemo and Omololu Ogunmade

After months of intriguing but issues-based campaigns, notwithstanding the fluid and daily changing equation on the most favoured choice between President Barack Obama, candidate of the Democratic Party and his Republican opponent, Mr. Mitt Romney, America appears set to stamp the credentials of the most popular candidate in the November 6 presidential election. Yet, the US choice of who emerges the next president is not automatic.

With campaign issues centred around pivotal policies like the economy, health, foreign policy, immigration, gender gap and political funding of the candidates; the three presidential debates which held at a stretch had also given fillip to the voting direction in addition to the popularity standing of the respective candidates.

Much as the choice of the next American President is entirely that of her citizens; that such a choice impacts the entire global community is an essential factor that cannot be waved aside in the body arithmetic. Hence, the world is equally keen on who becomes the next US President even though the reasons for this cannot be detached from what had formed the campaign debates so far. The US, a supposed world power, stands conspicuously in the world’s economy, politics and most critically, her diplomatic relations.

This, perhaps, is the reason both Obama and Romney are not taking chances in the countdown to Tuesday. Whilst their campaigns almost got dirty at certain points as they traded tackles, both candidates did not lose sight of the fact that decency is not negotiable in public office, as such, the need for restraint is sacrosanct. They have raised vital issues, traded tackles and even joked when the need arose. But they did not denigrate each other. This, however, remains the scenario as the countdown closes in. Indeed, it is also a lesson in democratic teachings that politics is civil.

Issues at Stake

The re-election of any American President is a major assignment that is often taken seriously because the possibility of an enhanced advantage through some sorts of electoral fraud is practically non-existent. They work and fight their way through, riding on such issues that are connected to both their immediate and remote environment.

To locate this within the context of the present exercise, like some analysts have said, is to go back more than 70 years and find a president who retained his job when many of his compatriots lost theirs. For instance, analysts believed that economic gloom had cut short the chances of former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush Snr in their days. On the contrary, it is believed that President Barack Obama’s record is not all that bad, given the state of the economy when he assumed office and that might be good enough to save him, said one Larry Elliott.

But there are those who differ. Those who belong to this school are of the view under Obama’s stewardship, the US economy has suffered its feeblest economic recovery since the Second World War. Living standards for the average American, they claimed, have fallen since he arrived at the White House almost four years ago. The anti-Obama Presidency camp also contended that despite his rallying call to the struggling and the dispossessed in 2008, poverty has increased even as the gap between the rich and poor has grown. History, they argued, shows that the last incumbent president to win a re-election with the unemployment rate above 8% was Franklin Roosevelt.

Thus, in their estimation, if the race for the White House is keenly about the economy, “Romney might as well win the election by a country mile and Obama contemplating joining George Bush Snr. and Jimmy Carter as one-term presidents of the modern era.”

Yet, the Obama rating may have been upped a bit in recent weeks by some faltering signs that the economy is on the mend. For instance, the recession in the real estate market – the worst the US is said to have ever endured – appears to be at an end, with housing starts, home sales and property prices all on the rise. Analysts at Capital Economics are of the view that the most challenging days for the US economy were in the months between Obama’s election victory in November 2008 and his inauguration in early 2009. They believe that the economy is in much better shape now than it was then.

Looking at the Health Sector, Obama’s healthcare reform was arguably the biggest domestic achievement of his presidency. It affords Americans to buy health insurance and makes sure people with pre-existing conditions got insurance. Republicans, however, denounced the act as unaffordable and a violation of individual freedom. Romney thus pledged to repeal the care act in its entirety. But he seemed to have since capitulated when he said there were a few things he would keep – including allowing young adults to stay on parental policies until they are 25. Most Americans, however believe the Obama reforms hold a lot of benefits.

Debates on Foreign Policy remain an interesting aspect of the campaigns so far. Ironically, Foreign policy did not feature much in the campaigns until the killing of the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. Since then, attention has shifted to the diplomatic turf which many believe has also exposed the deficiency of the Republican candidate.

Romney who has said very little about foreign affairs, however cashed in on the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. He described it as an emblem of America’s place in the world under Obama and claimed that the US response to the wave of attacks on American diplomatic mission had been to apologise for the amateur video that had triggered them. Even the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, also claimed that the riots over the anti-Muslim video were a demonstration of how the Obama foreign policy was “blowing up in our faces”. He went on to compare the scenes from North Africa to the 1979 Iranian revolution and implied a comparison between Obama and the Democratic President at the time, Carter, the personification among American conservatives of weak, unpatriotic, leadership.

But as it turned out, Romney and Ryan, had the timings wrong, especially that there was a statement by the US embassy in Cairo which condemned the video for its cynical portrayal of the prophet Muhammad, preceding the attacks. The US President also described the attack as an act of terrorism and this was confirmed during their second debate.

Obama also countered the narrative with his emphatic celebration of those values in his speech to the UN general assembly. Thus, on the bigger picture, debate on issues of foreign policy is believed to have put Obama on the edge because the first aspect is believed to have inoculated Obama from Republican attacks for lack of resolve over the other two. In other words, the killing of America’s enemy number one- Osama Bin Laden- analysts say is not an indication that the government is weak on security. Besides, there is a near consensus that a war-weary America has nothing to gain by arguing that the White House is cutting and running from foreign conflicts.

Issues about Immigration policy also opened up the understanding of both candidates about governance in a 21 century America because for example, immigration reform is considered one of the top issues for Latino voters. Most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the US are Latino. Obama won their overwhelming support in 2008, and there are indications that the feat might repeat itself this November.

Although, he is believed to have failed to deliver on his promise to introduce immigration reform, he has however, taken action, bypassing the Congress to give the children of some illegal immigrants relief from the threat of arrest. He has also reiterated his reform promise this second term. But this is believed to be creating some hard time for the government. Latinos living without immigration papers in Arizona, for instance, are said to have begun to bombard helplines and lawyers’ offices, requesting about how to provide for their children in the event that they were arrested under the controversial new police power that came into effect some weeks back.

Under the new terms, police are required to investigate the immigration status of anyone they come across during their normal work and whom they suspect of being unauthorised. The law was snarled up in legal challenges that went up to the US Supreme Court. In June, the court struck down several elements of the legislation but allowed the clause to go ahead pending local Arizona court’s approval. The approval was however granted recently and the provision is now in effect.

But residents of Phoenix, the capital of Arizona, are said to be bracing for the rule change, having witnessed the impact of heavy-handed policing for years under Joe Arpaio, who is said to often call himself “America’s toughest sheriff”. Groups working with undocumented Hispanics are more concerned about other smaller towns, such as Flagstaff and Prescott, which have large Latino populations but no experience of police officers acting as immigration agents.

Community leaders in Tucson, Arizona’s second-largest city had also met the police chief, Roberto Villasenor, to discuss the implementation of the clause. Regina Romero, who sits on the city council and convened the meeting, said the clear fear was that police would be drawn into racial profiling. “We live 45 minutes from the Mexican border, so who else other than Mexicans are you going to be picking up? You are not going to be looking for Canadians in this part of the country,” she said.

Alessandra Soler, head of the ACLU in Arizona, said that there was already evidence that Tucson police were making contact inappropriately with US border patrol officers even for such mundane issues as help with translation. “It’s extremely problematic when you have local police contacting border patrol when there is no good reason.”

Apart from the immigration controversy, the issue of gender gap has so far played a role in the campaigns. Polls have shown that women would be a crucial issue for the Democrats. Romney is said to be lagging 20 points behind Obama with women voters, at least, according to Karen McVeigh. Democrats are said to tend to do better among women voters than Republicans. Historical precedent notwithstanding, Romney is said to be performing terribly with a demographic group whose votes can be decisive in swing states.

Recent polls suggest that the gender gap in this year’s election could hit historic levels, with Romney trailing Obama by some 20 points among women nationally, and even more in some key battlegrounds. However, there are many policy related reasons behind the antipathy towards the Republicans among female voters. Women, polls have shown, are more likely to consider healthcare and social issues as important to their voting choice and the male voters.

And since Romney has said if elected, he would repeal Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act even as social issues have persistently intruded on his campaign’s attempts to focus on the economy, that move might count significantly against him.

Smartly, one of the defining Democrat attacks on the Republican candidate and his party has been over their “war on women”, for such policies as equal pay, domestic abuse, abortion and contraception. The drive by Republican lawmakers to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of cancer screening to women with low incomes, has alienated some female voters, as have attempts to restrict access to abortion.

But reading through the equation, Romney has also flipped his position on abortion, running as pro-choice in Massachusetts, before changing it to anti-choice when running for presidency in 2008. Also, by picking Ryan, one of the staunch anti-abortion conservatives as running mate, Romney may have alienated the moderates. That tension was further exposed in August amid the furore over the “legitimate rape” comments of Senate candidate, Todd Akin.

Of course, debate over campaign finance has been of immense contribution to the slant of campaign. Some court rulings are believed to have given corporations and the super-rich a greater role in the elections than ever. The new entities, arising from two court rulings, are said to form the single most important innovation of this year’s election cycle as private and corporate money are daily pumped into the race.

Coming against the backdrop of two controversial court rulings in 2010, Citizens United v FEC and v FEC, Super Pacs – based on the traditional political action committees but able to engage in unlimited political spending outside campaigns – allow corporations, for the first time in more than 40 years, to use their financial muscle to influence an election. Super Pacs cannot directly fund candidates but they can support them with their own message.

Overall, Super Pacs have spent $270m this year. The Republicans have the edge on spending, with billionaire donors such as Sheldon Adelson and Bob Perry wading in with tens of millions of dollars. The Republican Super Pac effort is being closely co-ordinated by George Bush’s former svengali, Karl Rove.

Not left out, Obama also has a Super Pac that supports his candidacy, Priorities USA. But it has only raised $43m compared to the $97m raised by Restore Our Future, the Super Pac backing Romney.

Their Strengths, their Weaknesses

Both Obama and Romney have their strengths and weaknesses, a situation believed would make the Tuesday election somewhat close. Obama, though, might be running into economic headwinds, his overall job approval rating is not as low as that of some of his predecessors who had sought re-election in a difficult economy, Gallup was quoted as having released recently.

“In general, Obama is well liked and that’s strength,” said Karlyn Bowman, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “People think he has been a good steward of foreign policy.

“Romney is not as well known at this point and his unfavorable ratings are high. Both men have solid support among partisans. Both men are seen as strong family men. Both are seen as honest. Although, people disapprove of the way Obama has handled the economy, they aren’t sure Romney would do better,” Bowman said.

No doubt, likability is crucial, some have also argued that Obama’s personal appeal is making his approval rating higher than it might otherwise be, given the state of the economy. Obama is also preferred over Romney for being a strong leader. “Those are all valuable calling cards with voters,” Gallup further noted in its release.

However, Romney’s advantages, Gallup said, are mainly economic. He is preferred for handling the economy and the federal budget deficit -- both high on Americans’ list of issue priorities. And he’s slightly more likely to be seen as the better manager.

But while Romney’s favorable rating is not as high, it has gone up a notch to match Obama’s, which may be sufficient to win if Americans’ vote is guided mainly by their wallet, as the Gallup report has stated. And since many believe that the economy will be voters’ major issue; it may as well give Romney an advantage.

Pundits have advised Obama to be careful and not to take his eyes off the ball. They argue that his recent coming out in favor of gay marriage might be viewed as a sideshow by voters. But there are those who feel it might get him some independent voters.

Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, argued that one of Obama’s strengths is that he is an inspirational speaker seen as a visionary leader and boasts a strong foreign policy record after the death of Osama bin Laden, leader of the terror group al-Qaida and mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as well as the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

But his weaknesses are said to include the seeming indifference of the ordinary Americans struggling to work with Congress and baggage from nearly a full term as president. His health care reform and financial regulation are also unpopular with many Americans, except for a few and majorly women.

However, Romney’s strengths include the fact that he is seen as a strong business leader, which many believe would make him a good president. But like Obama, the wealthy former business executive can also seem aloof to average Americans, and he is also perceived as flip-flopping on some issues, Mahaffee said.

Importantly, all eyes have remained on the economy’s performance as far as the election is concerned and it remains a major yard stick upon which Obama will be judged by many Americans in the election.

Polls as Game Changer

Naturally, the roles played by polls in the outcome of an election in the US are huge. They are indisputably scientific and facts-based. And because of the understanding that comes with such, no candidate dismisses the outcomes of the different polls that usually compete for attention as election approaches. Rather, they study them and improve on their identified weaknesses while at the same time, consolidated on their strengths.

Already, different range of opinion polls conducted by many organisations in the US had shown that the election will be keenly contested. Whereas, initial polls showed that Romney had competitive edge over Obama, recent episodes in the race have continued to show neck to neck contest, thus making a clear winner at the poll presently unpredictable.

Unlike the 2008 presidential contest which revealed Obama’s huge competitive edge over McCain, this year’s race has so far shown that the presidential election will not be a walkover for the first black American president.

For instance, Rasmussen Reports daily tracking poll conducted recently, showed Romney leading with 49 per cent as against Obama’s 47 percent. According to the poll, one percent of the research sample would rather vote for another candidate aside the duo of Obama and Romney, while another two percent were undecided.

Another poll showed that 54 per cent of voters were still opposed to Obama’s Health Care Law and therefore wanted it repealed. Calls for the repeal of the law have mounted since March 2010 when the law was passed. Against this background, Rasmussen poll revealed that about 80 per cent of the electorate believes that if Romney is elected and Republicans consequently dominate the US Congress, the controversial law will be repealed.

According to the poll, the increasing support for a repeal of the law is predicated on beliefs that the cost of health care will go up as a result of the law. In the same vein, 50 percent of voters hold the opinion that the law will increase the federal deficit.

However, an October 27 poll conducted by Rasmussen on electoral college projections showed Obama having 237 votes against Romney’s 206, even though the exact number required to win the White House is 270.

In the same vein, Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll result released recently showed Obama scoring 49 per cent against Romney’s 46 percent. But 15 percent of registered voters, according to the poll, said they could still change their minds and vote for a different candidate depending on their perception of the race. The precision of Reuters/Ipsos online poll was measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for likely voters.

Also, the CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted between October 25 and 28, showed Obama’s narrow edge over Romney with 50 per cent and 49 per cent respectively, while Survey USA poll carried out between October 25 and 27 showed Obama and Romney scoring 47 per cent each.

Besides, the PPP (D) opinion poll of October 25 witnessed Obama trailing Romney with 48 per cent while the latter scored 49 per cent. Other polls were conducted by Rasmussen Reports (Obama 50, Romney 48), Gravis Marketing (Obama 50, Romney 49) and Sunshine State News/VSS with 51 per cent and 46 per cent output respectively.

Aside that, the national tracking polls released so far showed Romney leading Obama by small single-digit margins which keen watchers believed were not strong enough to turn the tables against Obama when the chips are eventually down. Three other six daily national tracking polls of penultimate Thursday tilted towards Romney’s favour, with one moving a point towards Obama while the other two reflected the former results.

The shifts in the polls’ results, according to analysts, had helped to produce what they described as “consensus.” Against this background, five of the seven new polls gave Romney an edge ranging from one and three percentage points as conducted by “three of the best-known brand names,” viz: Gallup, ABC/Washington Post and Rasmussen Reports. The three polls were said to have “converged on a three-point Romney lead.” Nevertheless, analysts have said that the seven surveys reported margins of sampling error ranging “from +/- 2 to +/- 4 on the estimate of each candidate’s support,” while none of Romney’s “nominal leads” could be considered statistically significant.

Earlier, the HuffPost Pollster tracking model, which combined both national and statewide polls, gave Romney a slight edge over Obama in the estimated national popular vote of 47.3 percent to 46.9 percent. The differences between the different aggregation methods are slight. As at the time of filing this report, the RealClearPolitics average of Romney’s margin is just 0.5 percentage points higher than the Pollster estimate, an online commentator reported.

The models, it was learnt, indicated that Project New America Pollster Grove Insight demonstrated a statistical bias of roughly one percentage point (0.96) in Obama’s favour. The group also interpreted its new poll in Colorado, which gave Obama a three-point advantage (46 percent to 43 percent) as though it had shown just a one-point edge in favour of Obama (45 percent to 44 percent).

That adjusted result is comparable to another new Colorado survey of October 25 by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and Marist College which had the candidates tied at 48 percent. But the model’s current estimate in Colorado was a one-point edge which gave Obama an advantage with 48.0 percent over 47.0 percent for Romney

In nearly all the states, the polls’ results were identical with the same narrow margin advantage of Obama in the last two weeks in major states such as Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa and Ohio where the contest has been keen. Thus, the state estimates produced by the HuffPost Pollster tracking model took the national polls into account. Reports said the collective performance of Romney in the national tracking polls should not be mistaken to imply that he has secured a competitive edge over Obama in the “battleground states” of Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa and Ohio.

But the reports also added that if the upward trend continues, the margins in the states will be narrowed down and can consequently enable Romney secure electoral vote majority. Nonetheless, Obama has continued to maintain his narrow lead ahead of his challenger.

It is also worthy of note that five of seven polls earlier conducted by different groups showed Romney maintaining a lead over Obama. All eyes now wait to see who eventually carries the day as Americans go to the poll on Tuesday.

Tags: Politics, World, Choice, Obama, Romney

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