Monday, 10 September 2012

Good news and bad news for American liberals

There's good news and bad news this week for Americans who lean over to the political Left - however mildly.

First off, the good news: President Obama is likely to be re-elected. The much-respected statistician and blogger Nate Silver now rates this (as of today) as very likely: likely just under 81 per cent of the time, in fact. That's quite a likelihood, and it's had some commentators saying that the Presidential election is all over - not that they think it ever really got started.

So lots of things that American centrists and leftists hold dear - healthcare reform, the relatively Keynesian spending plans that have been emanating from the White House, a woman's right to choose on abortion, immigation reform - won't die. They'll stay alive, at least as far as Presidential edict and order can secure.

The bad news? Well, it's that Americans are more divided and more partisan than ever. That's implicit, really, in the numbers themselves. The economy is, basically, crummy (though Europeans would love to see growth at an 'anaemic' two per cent a year). If a bare majority of Americans weren't entrenched in their positions vis-a-vis the issues listed above, and if they just said 'it's a referendum on the incumbent - let's kick him out', President Obama wouldn't have a prayer.

The Republican Party has moved so far to the Right that they seem to have gifted the President re-election. But that doesn't mean that his agenda will remain intact. In fact, it hangs by a thread. A thread called the Senate. We're probably going to see the upper chamber of Congress split 50:50, or 49:51 in one direction or the other - indication enough of how divided Americans have become. If that hair's breadth of a margin goes against the Democcrats, you can forget about anything being done in Washington for the next two years.

The state-by-state electoral map itself looks set fair to stay preserved in aspect. Mitt Romney might be able to take Indiana and North Carolina off Obama (hardly Democratic states in the first place). And that's it. Big deal. The President's party has been able to dig in, on cultural and moral issues, in a mirror image of the 2004 race - using 'wedge' politics to push Governor Romney off the centre ground (not that his party needs much help). It's all a far cry from their 50-state strategy of 2008 (see the map above), when Obama made some effort to campaign in and fight for every vote in every state. And it's a long way from the healthy cold wind of proper proportional representation and a real all-American electoral battle, which would be secured by the campaign for states to apportion their Electoral College votes in line with the popular vote. A more competitive picture might emerge one day, but not for a long time. At the moment, there's no point campaigning anywhere but the nine swing states in play - something that cements both parties into their trenches.

A doleful prospect - though not as bad as that facing Europeans tied up in knots by the Euro. But more on that anon.

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