Explaining American Elections to Londoners

A holiday visitor from London asked asked why I thought that Mitt Romney would win the 2012 presidential election. My answer, adjustable for other candidates, is that voters consider four things:

1. Ideology. America is a “center-right” country, with voters self-identifying as about 40% conservative, 40 % moderate, and 20% liberal. (Obama comes from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party; Hillary was the centrist.)  Compared to Obama, the Republicans’ differences are shades of gray. Advantage Republican.

2. Party affiliation. Some 31% of the voters identify as Democratic with a slightly fewer Republican and 40% or so independent. (This reflects a shift toward Republicans of a few percentage points in the past several years.) Party identification matters in presidential voting decisions because the president appoints judges, runs foreign affairs, and sets the direction for the federal government whether you like your party’s candidate or not. Republicans are riled-up; Democrats less so. Toss-up.

3. Executive competence. Obama’s primary claim of managerial experience in 2008 was that David Axelrod ran a good campaign. Few would argue that executive competence has been a strong point as president, “leading from behind” and all. Detachment from the private economy and a high unemployment rate are heavy albatrosses for any president to bear. Mitt can tout effective experience with the Salt Lake Olympics, with Bain Capital, and as Governor of Massachusetts. (Perry as a jobs-creating governor of Texas; Gingrich as a transformational House Speaker.) Advantage Republican.

4. Personality. Many would like to vote for the affable African-American over the Mormon millionaire – or the Texas governor or the former Speaker of the House for that matter.  Obama plans to spend $1,000,000,000 painting the Republican as heartless in one way or another. Advantage Obama.

Beyond that it is necessary to get into the swamp of ethnic politics, swing states, the effect of redistricting, and a bunch of other factors. Among the most important, many of my Democratic friends talk hopefully about the disruptive possibility of a third party candidate – recognizing that Ralph Nader likely cost Al Gore the 2000 election and Ross Perot likely cost George H.W. Bush the 1992 election. Ron Paul and Donald Trump offer some hope for Democrats, as does the George Soros-like  Peter Ackerman-led Americans Elect organization which has registered for the ballot in 13 states and hopes to tap in to anti-establishment anger, using an “internet convention” to select a “centrist” nominee. Good luck explaining that to foreigners.


This week’s video is PBS’ initial endorsement of Americans Elect, laying out the liberal talking points.