How did Obama do it?

November 6th, 2012

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This piece was originally featured on Al Jazeera.

It was partly a personal victory. American voters like Barack Obama. Mitt Romney, not so much. Romney came across as an opportunist. He was a moderate when that was required in Massachusetts, and he was a “severe conservative” when he ran for the Republican nomination. In the end, voters just didn’t trust Romney

What about the issues? The economy was a huge burden for President Obama. That’s why the election was so close. It was by far the biggest issue to voters, and those concerned about the economy did vote for Romney. But not by a huge margin. Obama benefited from the fact that a lot of voters still blame President Bush for the financial crisis. And from the fact that people believe the economy is beginning to turn around. Obama sells hope, and there’s still a lot of hope out there.

This was a victory for the New America. The demographics of the country are changing. Republicans have become the party of older white men—a constituency where Obama lost support. But Obama continued to draw strong support from women, sexual minorities, racial minorities, foreign-born citizens and young people. They came to power with Obama in 2008. Four years ago, Obama had the advantage of a financial crisis. This year’s election was on a more level playing field. Even one that was tilted against the incumbent. It was a fair fight. And the New America won.

Republicans may be tempted to say, “We nominated John McCain, a closet moderate, in 2008, and we lost. Then we nominated a closet moderate, Mitt Romney, in 2012 and we lost. Next time, we have to go for the real thing.” If they believe that, they are doomed. All they have to do is look at their Senate losses in Indiana and Missouri, states they should have won. Republican candidates in those states were simply too far outside the mainstream.

The message of 2012 is, the American mainstream is changing. We’re seeing voters approve of same-sex marriage in popular referendums for the first time. And we are seeing an African-American President re-elected without the benefit of an economic crisis.