Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Romney's early switch to Right was the wrong tactic

Obama's textbook campaign has given him four more years in the White House, but it's back to the drawing board for the Republicans, says Bill White

So Barack Obama has won a second term in office as president. All the polls turned out to be fairly accurate, with the Obama GOTV (Get-out-the-Vote) operation proving to be one of the most effective in recent political history.

Our local politicians should, perhaps, look at how both candidates' campaigns - but particularly Obama's - mobilised people to get out and vote.

The motivation and organisation pouring out of both camps was incredible. It's hard to see our own local politicians motivating voters enough to get them to stand in queues for several hours in order to register their vote.

It is puzzling, however, why an advanced nation like the US can't implement a modern electoral system that doesn't require queues to form in the first place.

As with all political victories, Obama built up his campaign from the centre of the political spectrum, creating a broad coalition of key groups that now represent a substantial part of the US electorate: principally, blacks and Hispanics.

Obama has shown that, as always, you build political victories by holding the centre ground and reaching out to other groups.

This was exemplified by one of his classic campaign lines that you 'Build an economy from the middle class out, not from millionaires down', appealing directly to the middle ground in the political spectrum. Mitt Romney, with a moderate record, tried to appeal too much to various Right-wing Republicans and members of the Tea Party, particularly early on in the campaign.

He did try to moderate a lot of his views in the campaign's latter stages, for example in the last TV debate, but, by then, a large section of centre-ground voters had a nervousness that he was too Right-wing.

In spite of a strong campaign in the last eight weeks of the campaign to move to the centre-ground, it was too late; once voters conclude on a general view about a candidate, it is very hard to shift.

There should be a lesson here for UK politicians who want to court what are wrongly perceived to be popular themes with the electorate, particularly in regard to UK membership of the EU.

Some Right-wing Conservatives view UKIP as a challenge, but election analysis shows UKIP will only be effective in already safe Conservative seats and their challenge will probably only result in reducing the Conservative majority in these safe seats and have no impact on the actual number of Conservative MPs returned to the House of Commons.

If the Conservative Party courts this UKIP-type vote, they may alienate the type of voter they need to attract in marginal constituencies - constituencies which they need to win to gain an overall majority.

Similarly, Mitt Romney secured substantial Right-wing support in states that were always going to be won by him, but his views and his courting of this electorate (at least early on in the campaign) seemed to have had the effect of turning off substantial sections of voters in key swing-states, such as Virginia, Ohio and Florida.

There are huge demographic time-bombs waiting to explode in and around the Republican party over the next few years and they now need to have a long, hard review as to how they can appeal to a wider cross-section of the rapidly changing US electorate if they are to secure a presidential election victory in 2016.

For example, this will probably be the last US presidential election fought mostly using the English language, as the 2016 election will probably be what could be termed the first bilingual presidential election, using both English and Spanish as a way of connecting with the widest possible voter-base.

The Republican party also need a strong candidate for 2016; one who has national and international presence, as the Democratic party perhaps already have a huge 'name' all set to run in 2016: Hillary Clinton.

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