After months of gruelling and exhilarating campaign, the two front runners in the 2012 Presidential contest in the United States of America – Barack Obama of the Democratic Party and Mitt Romney of the Republican Party – left their fate in the hands of the electorate last Tuesday. At the end of the election, which has been described as the toughest ever in the history of the country, Obama won an overwhelming majority votes. With this, the first African-American President of the US won a second term in office as the country’s 44th President.
It has gone down as one election where political bookmakers got it wrong, opinion polls and exit polls somersaulted, and an overwhelmed media declared the polls too close to call. For many of us, it was like a battle of our lives. Days before the election, I had taken it upon myself to put regular calls through to my friends in the US in order to get-first hand information about the campaign. That was when it became obvious that the usually reliable international media could no longer be relied upon.
Not even the Sandy storm that bared its rage across the east coast of America, leaving disaster and destruction along its tempestuous route, was enough to dissuade Uzoma Nwagwu from his daily commentaries which he shared with me with ferocious interest. Uzoma is a resident of New Jersey who commutes to New York every day to fend for self and family with a paid employment at the Citi Bank Group. Before he ‘migrated’ to ‘Obama’s land’ about 20 years ago, Uzoma had had a stint with a newspaper in Nigeria. He had also been exposed to some pro-democracy activists who were at the fore-front of the clamour for civilian rule in the country in the early 1990s.
So to Uzoma, whom his numerous friends prefer to call Uzor, monitoring an all-encompassing campaign like the recent one in America was more or less a familiar terrain. He was just there anytime his phone rang to give updates. He exuded confidence and charisma each time he weighed the chances of Obama and Romney. When Obama faltered during his first televised debate with Romney, we were both gripped with fear and trepidation.
Though Romney’s rating had unexpectedly soared after that first encounter, Obama was to shore up his electoral value during the other two debates. On the eve of the election, we had to abandon every other thing and concentrated attention on how Obama would fare in the battleground and swing states. At least, we were sure of his victory in Ohio because of his auto bailout programme which resuscitated the failed auto industry. This ensured that workers in the state had their jobs for keep in the aftermath of the economic recession that plagued the US and the rest of the world in 2008. But we had concern over Florida, Iowa, Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina and others.
At a point, Uzor and I became more troubled when feelers started pouring in that many of the white voters had probably introduced racial dimension into the voting pattern in their desperate attempt to ease out ‘our candidate’ (Obama) from the White House. That evening, the Cable Network News, CNN, which has maintained a track record of accurately projecting winners of elections in US for many years, played safe and could only see a tie between Obama and Romney. That sort of increased the adrenalin flow in our bloodstream.
At 11:18 pm (Eastern Time in America), when Fox news, CNN and other news outlets still projected President Obama winner, the race to the White House wasn’t anything close. It was a decisive victory for Obama who polled 332 electoral votes, 62 votes more than the required 270 votes, against Romney‘s Republican party’s 206. Obama also swept eight out of nine swing states, with North Carolina his only battleground loss. Of the 56 presidential elections held in United states, 44 presidents in US history, incumbents have run 30 times, winning 20 times and losing 10 times.
‘For sure, hurricane Sandy did not blow in wind of votes for Obama’s victory rather it was the result of a carefully conceived election campaign based on changing political demography that was passionately executed’
But Obama’s second-term victory did not come as a surprise. The worsening economy set the agenda for the 2012 election. Obama made lots of grandiose promises when he was first elected President in 2008. Paul Ryan, the Republican Vice president, captured this thus: “He promised to cut the nation’s deficit in half? It doubled. He vowed to create jobs and put Americans back to work; unemployment rate grew higher than the day he took office. You have 23 million Americans struggling to find work, 15 percent of American citizens are today living in poverty”.
The facts are monumental and, definitely, the defence of Obama’s record almost made his candidacy a hard sell. All but the economy became central in the campaign. It is the Middle class that lost their jobs and could not find any. They lost their homes as they could not pay their mortgage and could no longer afford medical care for the family. No wonder the two candidates ran their campaigns focusing on the class.
Obama’s ground game of getting voters, micro targeting the much-needed audience, and ensuring they voted timely, was a deciding factor for the outcome of the election. For sure, hurricane Sandy did not blow in wind of votes for his victory rather it was the result of a carefully conceived election campaign based on changing political demography that was passionately executed.
Essentially, the grounding game strategy roared Obama’s message home directly to the target audience. He connected with the Middle class who formed the bulk of the voters. He understood that voters wanted the president they know. They believed convincingly that Obama, not Romney, understood their nightmares of college costs, insurance bills and all that. Virtually, in most of Obama’s rallies, he did not fail to seize the opportunity to remind Americans that he had been in their situation, understood and shared their values. This worked well for him as exit polls showed that voters thought far more and viewed Obama as the voice of the poor and the middle class. On the other hand, they saw Romney as the guy leaning perpetually toward the rich.
Furthermore, Latino vote was a significant block. Obama’s campaign strategists, therefore, converted to advantage, the emerging demographics and their voting influence on the outcome of the election. He succeeded in building a firewall with Hispanics, and tapped heavily on their increasing population. Hispanics became the biggest deciders of the election. For the first time, they represented 10 percent of the overall electorate. On the whole, Hispanics cast about 11 million votes in the election.
There was a good reason for this. Five months earlier, under an executive action, Obama amended the immigration policy to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country and work without fear of deportation. That appeared to have removed the rug underneath Romney’s feet. From then on, the Republican Party candidate was all through hunted by his statement calling for illegal immigrants to “self-deport”.
Also, throughout the campaign, Romney carried the baggage of horrendous gaffes. The problem was that the Republican Party candidate couldn’t pass the credibility test. It was so bad that even many voters who were hitherto disenchanted with Obama found it unsafe to vote for Romney who was seamlessly at ease shifting grounds on his earlier adopted positions on many issues.
On the whole, Romney’s flip-flop cast aspersions on whether he could really be trusted by Americans. Obama’s strategists effectively used the question of Romney’s credibility to ask American’s who they trusted based on their antecedent. At a point in the campaign, Obama was constrained to call his rival a ‘talented salesman’ who will change his position at anytime to win. The lesson of the 2012 United States presidential election especially for Nigeria, is a topic for another day.