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Are the States united? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Four years ago, when Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American US president, the overwhelming atmosphere was one of joy coupled with great hope, not just inside America but around the entire world. The slogan of change struck a chord to the point that everybody expected Obama’s entry to the White House would begin a new stage characterized by hope. For in America, many people were dreaming that their country had turned a page on the painful past, and begun to heal its deep wounds to become more united and harmonious. This optimism was also reflected on the US economy which was exiting years of crisis towards recovery. As for externally, hopes were raised that Obama’s election would see the world move towards a better stage in terms of cooperation and calm after a decade of tension and war that characterized George W. Bush’s years at the White House, particularly since the 9/11 attacks that changed much in the course of America and the world.

All opinion polls published at the time reflect this sentiment. In a poll conducted by Gallup for USA Today, 67 percent of Americans said that they felt optimistic and happy following Obama’s election. Whilst in another poll, America’s CBS television channel reported that 71 percent of Americans had expressed their optimism regarding the next 4 year. In addition to this, 70 percent of those polled by Gallup said that they thought that race relations would be better as a result of Obama’s election, particularly in terms of what this meant for America’s minorities and the racial mix of America’s society from different races and religions.

However as the wind blows counter to the ship’s desire, so the 2012 elections took place in an atmosphere as far removed as possible from the spirit of hope and optimism that followed the 2008 elections, whether domestically or internationally. The dreams of hope faded to be replaced by fears and concerns regarding the consequences of the economic crises and political tensions in many parts of the world, to the point that 72 percent of Americans said that they believe that their country will be a party in an external conflict or war during the next 4 years.

The 2012 elections shed light on something else that deserves contemplation, namely that America is deeply divided, even if its internal demographics are quickly changing, with everything that this implies for the social and political situation. Obama won with the support of black and Latino voters, not to mention women and the youth, whilst Romney’s primary supporters were white, particularly senior citizens and those living in rural areas. These considerations will play a major role in the future choices and campaigns of the Republican and Democratic parties. For the Latino (or Hispanic) community is considered the fastest-growing demographic group in the US, overtaking the African-American community in this regard, at a time when the proportion of white voters is decreasing on a yearly basis. Just twenty years ago, whites made up 90 percent of the recorded electorate in the US, however this figure has decreased to 74 percent in the 2008 elections, decreasing even further to 70 percent in 2012. Many analysts believe that this demographic change will have the greatest impact on the Republican Party which will result in a complete review of its electoral strategy to compete with the Democrats for the minority votes, particularly the Hispanics.

However the image is not this simple because Obama also won thanks to strong support from women, as he won 55 percent of women’s votes in comparison to 44 percent who voted for Romney. This is something that could strengthen Hillary Clinton’s chances, as all signs indicate that she has begun her preparations to contest the 2016 presidential elections, particularly as women are more likely to vote than men, according to the electoral process over the past years. Obama also heavily won the youth vote, with 60 percent of those aged between 18 and 29 voting for him, in comparison to just 37 percent who voted for Romney. Even amongst the 30 – 44 year olds, 52 percent of them voted in favor of Obama, which is extremely important in a society whose young population is on the rise and whose elderly population is declining, although polls also indicated that the majority of America’s senior citizens voted for Romney and the Republicans.

America’s biggest problem appears when one contemplates the distribution of votes between Obama and Romney according to racial lines; 59 percent of whites voted for Romney in comparison to 39 percent for Obama, whilst 93 percent of the black vote went to Obama compared to just 6 percent for Romney. As for the Hispanic or Latino community, 73 percent voted for Obama in comparison to just 26 percent for Romney. It is also true that Romney critically hurt himself when he provoked a large proportion of America’s poor, not to mention black and Latino communities, in some of his statements and comments, particularly his famous statement in which he said that 47 percent of American people – who will vote for Obama no matter what – do not pay taxes, consider themselves victims and rely on government support. He added that his job is not to worry about this 47 percent. However these statements ultimately blinded Romney and reinforced his image as a rich white man who does not care about minorities or understand the suffering of the poor; although in reality this did not significantly change the way that the minorities voted, at least in this election.

America may have re-elected Obama in spite of the ongoing economic crisis which has strongly affected its position; however it did not emerge from these elections in a unified or optimistic manner, rather these results confirmed that the country is witnessing deep divisions below the surface. These are divisions that will have a clear impact on the American political makeup and approach in the forthcoming years.