The new president of the United States of America is known at last – it is the one that had already spent one term in the office, mister Barrack Hussein Obama. Many people, most of all probably American Republicans, are now asking these questions above all others: Why? How did that happen? Where did we go wrong? There undeniably was huge amount of effort put into this year’s presidential campaigns for both candindates, as well as a number of other potential candidates from the GOP primaries. Once again, the funding grew to historic heights and the intensity of coverage broke new grounds, extremes and records. Neither party could be faulted for not trying hard enough, but effort itself most certainly isn’t the only factor at play here – human (in)decision (as it was jokingly called by Daily Show’s John Stewart) can be affected by everything from gaffes to weather. There are of course more rational suspects as well, like presidential achievements or lack therof, proposed ideologies and solutions, personal integrity of candidates and performances of their running mates, the nature of media coverage, performance in debates, party unity and support or the successful fundraising efforts combined with efficient spending, and possibly even more. In this paper I will try to assess, which of these factors (if any) seem to have had significant influence on the end result of this almost-neverending election (or as it once again called John Stewart, The Democalypse 2012).
Let’s start at the beginning with the Republican caucuses and primaries, through which Mitt Romney had been nominated to run as the party’s officially endorsed candidate. It may be relevant, because the level of the support of the party as a whole for the candidate can be illustrated, among other things, at the level of enthusiasm and agreement that led to the ultimate selection of the presidential candidate. It is right here that we encounter a problem for mister Romney. If we look at the development of the primaries, we soon discover that for a very long time, at least about half way through the primaries, a large number of candidates other than Romney were prefered over Romney. At least at one point of the race, the favourite candidates were Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and even Rick Santorum was a serious opponent to Romney. Not to mention Ron Paul, who was ignored by his own party and their own media, despite being a popular contender with a serious chance to win enough votes. Fortunately for Romney (but maybe not for the Republicans), all the one-time favourites blew their reputation in one way or the other.
If I use the exaggerated news-carricatures, the dumb racist incapable of debating, the conspiracy theorist with an abusive husband, the mayor of the moon cheating on terminally ill wives, the sexual harrasser without a clue, the religious nut homophobe and the invisible libertarian all in the end proved to be less acceptable than the flavour-less flip-flopping Mormon. Who was in the first half of the primaries almost exclusively perpetually second to somebody else. I choose these somewhat slanderous media metaphors not because I would see the candidates as such, but that is how the media in America actually misunderepresented (to paraphrase George W. Bush Jr.‘s gaffe) the candidates to the mass public. It has been said by a number of prominent Republicans that the initial infighting and mutual incrimination damaged Romney’s chances in the first place. Image of flip-flopping became especially heavy burden for Romney, as it lead even to the creation of webpages specifically dedicated to his changes in opinion, nicknames such as „Romney Two-Face“ and endless satire on Comedy Central’s surprisingly influential (fake)news shows – The Daily Show and its comedically inverted twin spin-off, The Colbert Report. The image of rich man divorced from reality also effectivelly alienated large segments of the electorate, especially after Romney‘s infamous „47% video“ surfaced.
However, the real effect of the media and image thus produced is difficult to measure accurately, and though there may have been more polls done this election than ever before, their results were largely contradictory or inconclusive. Besides, both candidates made plenty of gaffes on camera and both sides made negative attack-ads aimed at their opponent. The presidential debates also seemed to be overall ballanced this time, with Obama sleepwalking through the first one, while making a strong comeback to form later on. The hardest factual bases for the success or failure of a campaign seem to be the executive accomplishments tied to real events, that show the strengths or weaknesses of the incumbent president, or, in the opinion of some experts and many laymen, the sheer power of money. One of the things that, in my opinion, really helped Obama win this election was a series of moments, that made him look as a strong and effective president – for example the final takedown of Osama Ben Laden, the improvement of unemployment rates or the decisive management of the last-moment hurricane Sandy. That actually may have been one of the most significant instances of weather influencing historic events in, well, history. Not quite comparing to two typhoons sinking two different attempted Mongol invasions of Japan, but still very well timed. This may have succesfully counterweighed the previous disappointment of many voters, stemming from unfulfilled promises of „change“, and stirring a belief that second-term Obama may finally get things done.
But let‘s not underestimate the financial aspect. Ever since the ruling of the Supreme Court equating money to speech couple of decades ago, more and more money have been finding its way into the campaign funds. This year, both presidential candidates collected over a billion dollars each and spent around 800 million dollars. While Romney collected more, most likely thanks to his rich friends and higher party funds, Obama has spent more on his campaign, while also getting more money than Romney from the substantially larger amount of small-time individual donors. If we were to take this at face value, more money spent on campaign equals winning. The reality is most likely much more complicated, however, despite the obvious conclusion that having a lot of money at one’s disposal certainly doesn’t hurt one’s chances. On the other hand, what was a surprising turn of events money-wise, the effect of controversial Super-PACs, which were significantly in favor of Romney, seems to have been much smaller than many interested parties hoped or feared. If nothing else, that certainly is a major victory for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which led a merciless and ingenious satirical campaign against them for the whole duration of the elections. Even though the money can provide much needed visibility for a candidate, there seems to be a level over which their power of political persuasion remains fully saturated.
In the end, it therefore must also matter what the candidate actually stands for. While Obama clearly promised a number of specific things when he first ran for president, he didn’t actually manage to fulfill his promises to a satisfying degree. On the other extreme of the spectrum, Romney kept changing his opinion when he was specific, while prefering to be generally vague about the nature of the policies he intends to put into practice, should he win the office. This choice between disappointment and suspicion was felt by many voters as frustrating, and it was not very helped by the supplementary performances of both candidates‘ running mates. In the case of Obama’s vicepresident Joe Biden, no amount of positive vibe could make up for the president’s hesitation to deliver, as well as no amount of Paul Ryan’s pretended expertise could make up for Romney’s intentional vagueness and apparent cynical insincerity. Given their comparably suboptimal general stances, it is my opinion that the „rich man“ was actually more harmed by the mere fact that he used money to improve his chances at winning the election, giving Obama the edge in how much campaigning could have helped him. Not to mention the not really helping more obviously negative tone of Republican ads and coverage by very visibly biased and truth-bending Fox News Channel (which I would rather not name using what John Stewart calls them).
In summary, I would conclude that the main contributing factor to Romney’s defeat and Obama’s victory was the overall style that the Republican party and Romney team chose to go for. It is one thing to have enough money to have a chance at getting the message across, but using it in an overly aggressive or arrogant way through borderline unethical journalism is not going to help build a positive image of a candidate, who is already suspected of being insincere or elitist. This led early on to an unnecessary civil war among the Republicans themselves, who may have been fragmented on the voter level because of that. In contrast to that, Obama has led a more positive and ethical campaign, though by no means spotless, and the Democrats were fairly firmly alligned behind their candidate, especially to oppose Romney, who managed to come across to them as an actual threat to the future of America. The Republicans tried hard to paint Obama intentionally as just that, a threat to the future of America, but that effort turned out to be much more forced and absurd, and therefore less effective. Combined with the bit of luck that Obama had with managing a crisis and presenting other achievements with the right timing, and the series of gaffes that Romney had with a particularly unfortunate timing, it is not very surprising that the general expectations of Obama’s reelection came true in the end. Let us hope that the future of America really isn’t in danger as a result.