Life: Left of Centre

State of the Union – How do you solve a problem like Mitt Romney?

Posted on: September 9, 2012

On Friday, 7th September, came the news that unemployment (or the ‘jobless rate’, as Americans call it) had fallen to 8.1%. Much of this was due to people giving up on work altogether, however. For every 1 job created, 4 Americans fell out of the labour market altogether. In fact, officially, the ‘Labour Force Participation Rate’ – the indicator of how many Americans are engaged in work or searching for work – fell to 63.5%, it’s lowest rate since September 1981. This date is notable as being almost one year on from President Jimmy Carter’s (the 39th incumbent of the Office) defeat after a struggling economy hit home, alongside numerous foreign policy mishaps and misadventures.

Could the same thing happen to the 44th and current President, Barack Obama on November 6th; welcoming to the stage the 45th President, Mitt Romney??…

ImageThat’s a tough question to answer. The odds favour the President. Only 4 incumbent Presidents have lost their bid for re-election in the last 100 years. Taft, Ford, Carter and Bush I – 1 Democrat amongst them, and all quite easily explicable – though more worryingly for Obama, both Carter and Bush I are widely considered to have been defeated because of the economy they presided over.

Of course these are very different circumstances. This recession is global in its origin, began on some else’s watch (namely Bush II) and he has a track record of taking action – a £750 bn bailout for the economy, rescuing GM and Chrysler and the US car industry from collapse and creating 3 million jobs. But with economic growth at a relatively tepid 1.7% in the second quarter of 2012, and unemployment still riding high, Americans are looking to the Republican alternative to answers. Cue former Governor Mitt Romney…

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I use this chart to demonstrate one of the Challenger’s biggest problems – and there are several, believe me. But before I get into that, it’s worth pointing out that current polls put this election (at least nationally) virtually neck-and-neck. Be in no doubt, Romney could be the 45th President of the USA on 7th November. Obama went into the US party political convention season with a small leader and has come out of it with a slightly bigger lead (latest polling, puts this at around 2% on average), but it’s very much a “too-close-to-call” thing at this stage – as the American networks might say! That said, let’s go onto why his job will be just that little bit harder…

Flip-flopping. Not the greatest of traits in life; one of the worst in politics. For building trust, this does you know favours, especially with an electorate that already perceives Romney to be out-of-touch, aloof and tied to special interests – the millionaire venture capitalist that he is, plus Obama’s effective campaign messaging combine to create this picture really rather effectively.

Worst of all for Romney though, perhaps, is that he’s not really offering anything new to the US public. Ok so: “less regulation, public spending cuts, reform medicare, repeal ‘Obamacare’ (the President’s healthcare initiative) etc etc”. None of this is new, nor inspiring, nor at all specific. Allied to a fairly flat, slightly mechanical if polished, delivery and you have a pretty uninspiring platform for governing.

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Above is the map of the US Presidential Election result in 2008. Now you may think this looks slightly warped – and that’s because it is. Or more accurately it’s been shaped to reflect population, and more specifically ‘electoral college votes’. Each state is of course given a certain number of these ECVs, according to their population. These are then used to decide the result of the election, not simply the percentage of the national vote.

You can see the states that Obama won in blue, and the states that John McCain (the then Republican challenger) won in red. It accurately reflects the size of Obama’s victory, in a way that a geographical map would not. The mind all too often associates size with importance / significance. Of course, in this case it would be right to!

Romney faces a similar challenge to McCain. An electoral map that looks all to similar to the one above. In fact, by all likely counts Obama starts with a probable 221 ECVs, to Romney’s 191 – a 30 vote lead, with 271 the winning post. That leaves 50 needed for the President and 80 for Romney. This translates, after a fair bit of maths, to 18 different ‘routes’ (combinations of so-called swing-states, where the election locally is too-close-to-call) to re-election for Obama, but only 11 for Romney – all of which include the must-win state for him of Florida (so long a Democrat must-win). In fact, add Nevada to Obama’s pile and that leaves Romney with only 5 (all including Ohio).

So, however you look at it, this election will be a tough call for the challenger to pull out, but not impossible. Watch this space!

Next up: my run-down on President Obama’s chances will follow in the coming weeks.

My thanks to the ClassBrain.com website, ‘Mitt, Venn and Now’ blog, CNN and the Real Clear Politics site for their helpful analysis and graphics. Especially RCP – even an inspiration!

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