US presidential election hardest fought in recent memory
US presidential election hardest fought in recent
memory, UC expert
November 4, 2012
The US presidential election battle between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney has been one of the most interesting and hard fought in recent memory, a University of Canterbury expert said today.
With just days left to the November 7 (NZ time) election, most national polls show the two candidates essentially tied, UC political scientist Dr Amy Fletcher said.
Poll results in virtually all of the states now crucial to win the Electoral College are within a fine margin of error, making it extremely difficult to predict the outcome of this election, she said.
``This election is no longer being fought state by state, but county by county. The outcome hinges on voter turnout, and advisors to both men can be seen on television accusing the other side’s pollsters of faulty assumptions in their statistical models.
``Constitutionally, while the popular vote matters in determining the outcome in each of the US states, the real number to look for on election night is the total number of Electoral College votes won by each candidate.
``Electors are real people, generally chosen by political party committees within each state. They meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, to formally cast votes for the President of the United States. Electors are pledged to vote for their party’s winning candidate, though, technically, a “faithless elector” could vote for someone else.
``The Electoral College reflects the American Founders’ commitment to federalism and their aversion to the potential ‘mob rule” of direct democracy. Each state has a fixed number of Electoral College votes, determined by the number of its congressional districts plus its two senators.
``The magic number on election night is 270. This figure represents half of the Electoral College total of 538 votes, plus the magical one vote needed to reach a majority. The first candidate to reach 270 Electoral College votes wins the White House.
``This is why certain states, with large Electoral College allotments and very close polls, have become the battlegrounds of this election. President Obama can likely count on approximately 201 Electoral College votes gained in blue states like California, New York, and Illinois.
``Romney can be confident about winning Texas, Louisiana and Utah, and can “count on” approximately 191 Electoral College votes across the “red” states. Both candidates will need to concentrate their energy, money and time in winning the swing states of Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida, among others, in order to achieve the 270 total.’’
It was possible, indeed it happened in 2000 with the contest between President George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, that in a very close election a candidate could win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College. The Electoral College tally would prevail.
If no candidate achieved a majority in the Electoral College, the House of Representatives would choose the President and the Senate would choose the Vice President. This meant that America could, in extreme circumstances; end up with a Romney-Biden administration.
Dr Fletcher said the first televised debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney exerted an influence arguably not seen since the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960. Romney’s excellent performance in this forum—and the President’s comparatively lackluster one—galvanized support for the Republican candidate.
Hurricane Sandy is a wild card in this election. Both candidates suspended campaigning in the middle of the crisis. President Obama took the lead in responding to the national emergency and has garnered words of praise for his astute handling of the federal disaster response from some prominent Republicans, such as Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.
``However, the storm hit hardest many states and districts that tilt Democratic in this election. Whether and how all of the polling places function on November 7 (NZ time) remains to be seen.
``The choice between Obama and Romney on domestic issues boils down to the economy, and to whether Americans choose a continuation of the President’s largely neo-Keynesian approach to solving the economic crisis or the comparative fiscal austerity of Romney/Ryan.
``With respect to foreign policy, there are differences at the margin but much more grounds for consensus. Key to both candidates is the perception that the future of the 21st century lies in the Asia-Pacific and that it is crucial for America to position itself as a long-term strategic and economic partner nation in this region,’’ Dr Fletcher said.