U.S Presidential Election

The U.S. general election will be held on Tuesday 6 November 2012 where ballots will be held to not only elect the 435 Representatives and 100 Senators that will form the 113th Congress but also to elect the 45th President.

President Barack Obama (Dem) as incumbent President is seeking a second and final term running with incumbent Vice President Joe Biden. They will be challenged by Republican nominees Governor Mitt Romney and running mate Congressman Paul Ryan.

The key to the Presidential election is that voters do not directly vote for the President, instead they vote for a ticket — this year, the two main party tickets are either the Obama/Biden or Romney/Ryan tickets. This vote is essentially a vote for, as a Congressional Research Service paper explains, the ‘political party “ticket” of electors supporting, and pledged to vote for, that team of presidential and vice presidential candidates’. These electors, who operate independently of the political parties, then form what is known as the Electoral College whose sole purpose is to elect the President and Vice President based on state-by-state results. There are 538 Electoral College votes available that are distributed by state and the winning candidates must obtain a majority of 270 votes. The U.S Presidential election is determined by wins in each state rather than a nationwide result.

While it is assumed that an incumbent President has the advantage against their opposition when seeking a second term, this year is notable as it will be the first election after the 2010 census that resulted in an electoral redistribution. Eight states have gained votes—including Texas, a solid Republican state gaining four votes— and ten states have lost votes. Key states that helped to boost President Obama’s win in 2008 have now lost votes which means that a 2012 win is not a given.
Early voting

On 25 October 2012, President Barack Obama returned to his home town of Chicago, Illinois and became the first sitting President to cast an early vote. U.S. Presidential campaigns usually contain some component of encouraging voter turnout. The Tuesday vote day, along with non-compulsory voting means that voter turnout has remained under 60 per cent since 1968.
This year, after strong campaigning to early vote by both sides of politics, it is predictedthat up to 40 per cent of all voters will cast an early vote. The imminent landfall of Hurricane Sandy which is expected to impact the North-Eastern seaboard including Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington DC and coastal North Carolina, will effect early voter numbers as a number of states are expected to be without power and transport for a week. Maryland has already cancelledearly voting for Monday 29 October 2012 and is not certain that early voting will reopen in light of the Hurricane. 

At this stage, it is unclear if the Hurricane will effect voting day as power is due to be limited and post-storm clean-up due to carry on for five to six days. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have changed campaign travel plans for the upcoming week.
It is also unlikely that the November 6 election day will be changed due to the Hurricane and after effects. Should there be the need, however, it is possible for Congress to change the date of the election. The U.S. Constitution gives authority to Congress to set election dates, which they did in 1845. Since then the Presidential election has taken place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November and the Electoral College has met on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.  Congress does have the authority to meet and change these dates but it would require bi-partisan support and state support, as many states hold non-federal elections on the same day as well. All in all, this would be an extremely complicated process.

Campaign focus
The Presidential campaign has focussed on two main policy areas— domestic politics in the form of economic management post-financial crisis and foreign policy.

On domestic policy, the budget deficit and high unemployment rates continues to be key issues with both candidates proposing different plans to cut spending and boost jobs. President Obama has announced tax cuts for small businesses, as well as targeting high income earners’ tax rate and is looking to end the war in Iraq as ways to curb the deficit. Governor Romney, on the other hand, has emphasisedsmall government including repealing Obamacare, privatising the Amtrak and cutting Federal spending to under 20 per cent of GDP.
Although both candidates address the budget deficit, economic commentators have pointed out that neither candidate’s plans will come close to reducing the deficit to a viable level. In addition, both campaigns have beencritiqued for their claims that their plans will reduce government spending, when an increase to government expenditure has been flagged by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It may be a case that both campaigns are trying to make do with a difficult economic situation and in the end voters will make a decision based on a plan that will reduce the deficit rather than bring the budget back to balance.

On foreign policy, most of the analysis to date suggests that the candidates have more in common than their rhetoric would sometimes suggest. This is the central argument of a recent paper by Dr Michael Fullilove from the Lowy Institute, ‘The audacity of reasonableness’.  It is a position that seems to have been largely confirmed in the wake of the third and final debate.  Dr Fullilove identifies Israel and Russia as the two bilateral relationships where the candidates differ the most, but concludes that ‘it is hard to discern a fundamental clash in worldviews’.
In terms of the Asia-Pacific, Governor Romney has questionedthe Obama administration’s so-called ‘pivot’ to the region, flagged by the President in the Australian Parliament in November 2011, as well as repeatedly declaringhe would take a stronger stand on China’s foreign currency and trade practices.  Predictably, the latter position has provoked a strong reaction from Beijing.  In light of these reactions, former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has statedthat ‘it is realistic to conclude that temperatures will rise considerably between Beijing and Washington during the first year of a Romney administration’.   This, predicts Mr Rudd, could result in an initial period of ‘recalibration’ before ‘substantive issues in the relationship can once again be transacted’.  In its analysisof the third debate, Foreign Policy magazine argues that the biggest determinant of future US–China relations will stem from domestic rather than foreign policy – that is, ‘the long-term credibility of the US economic recovery and its ability to bend the curve on [its] fiscal deficit’.  Regardless of the outcome, these issues will be followed closely across the region as the US, Australia and our neighbours continue to ponder the ‘China choice’ and as Beijing finalisesthe delicate process of selecting its new leadership team, just two days after the US election.

Tracking the vote
Real Clear Politics

Authors: Sophia Fernandes and Cameron Hill


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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