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Obama wins on the economy and the auto bailout

Barack Obama has won a second term as President of the United States. For months we were told this would be a close election. The received wisdom was a spluttering economy would play badly for the incumbent…

America has spoken: Barack Obama has won a second term as president. EPA/Steve Pope

Barack Obama has won a second term as President of the United States. For months we were told this would be a close election. The received wisdom was a spluttering economy would play badly for the incumbent.

In the end the President’s concerted campaign to label the Republican candidate Mitt Romney as an elitist corporate vampire who would do more to benefit the wealthy than return jobs and wealth to the middle-class has been successful. Obama also managed to convince a majority of voters in key states that there is some light at the end of the economic tunnel.

Mitt Romney’s pitch for votes centred around winning the key state of Florida and then breaking down President Obama’s strength in the mid-western states of Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada and particularly Ohio.

As an alternative strategy - based on concerns in the last days of the campaign that he could not win these key Western states - the Romney camp also targeted the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota. At the time of writing all of the three Democrat leaning states were called early for President Obama.

At this stage Florida is leaning ever so slightly towards the Democratic candidate. In the other Western battleground states President Obama has clearly won Wisconsin and has a handy lead in Iowa, Colorado and most importantly Ohio. These states appear to be lost to the Republican challenger and it is these wins that will lead to President Obama being returned to the White House.

One of the key issues to come out of the exit polls was voters' perception of the economy. While the economy was regarded by voters as the central issue which determined their vote, their views of how the economy was going and who was responsible for the ongoing difficulties varied significantly.

Exit polls showed that four out of ten people believed that the economy was getting better, whereas three out of ten thought it was getting worse. Clearly the extent to which voters thought the economy was improving and the recent drop in the unemployment rate below 8% was evidence of a move forward rather than a step backwards influenced their continued support for the president.

Perhaps even more important, the exit polls showed that more people blamed the Bush Administration for America’s current economic woes than blamed President Obama. According to the exit polls, 50% of voters believed that America’s economic situation was the result of Bush Administration policies while only 40% blamed the sitting President.

Romney’s key hope in seeking to become president was based on the assumption that voters would have short memories and see Obama’s significant increases in government spending as the most significant cause of the economy’s troubles.

A woman reacts to news of President Obama’s re-election at his campaign party in Chicago. EPA/Shawn Thew

This strategy does not appear to have worked as well with voters. At the same time, while voters were clearly worried about the size of the federal government deficit, they appear more worried about what a Romney presidency would do in stripping jobs and opportunity from the middle class.

In Ohio, for example, Romney suffered from the fact that the state’s economy has been boosted by the auto industry bailout instrumented by the Obama Administration. Exit polls suggest that six out of ten voters in the state supported the bailout whilst only a third opposed it.

This policy has been partially responsible for the state’s unemployment rate being below the national average at 7%. This lower level of unemployment and Romney’s opposition to the bailout and the fears which workers in the state had about the former Massachusetts governor’s reputation for downsizing businesses have all aided the President in this state.

Another crucial factor which seems to have stalled Romney’s momentum in the last days of the campaign was the President’s handling of Hurricane Sandy.

Approximately two-thirds of voters in exit polls suggested that the President’s handling of the crisis affected their vote. At a time when the Romney challenge was gaining some traction, the focus on the President’s handling of Sandy was influential in solidifying support for the president.

America - and the world - now has four more years of an Obama presidency. And while he has won this battle, a long fight with a hostile Congress over America’s tenuous fiscal position looms. There is a long way to go yet for the president.

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