Wednesday, November 03, 2004

U.S. Election - first observations.

It takes time to digest an election. However, a few observations:

1. The turnout was less than expected - up somewhat but not enough to help Kerry. The good news is that younger voters (18-29) supported Kerry 54-45, the only age cohort in which he won a majority. Don't forget that the Republicans were winning over the young during the Reagan era, which is one reason they have strength now.

2. I had ambivalent feelings about Kerry winning. I thought he was a weak candidate and worried, given his entire life experience as lawyer, prosecutor and senator that his abilities as President might not be terrific. Having said that I found that watching the film on Kerry, Going Upriver, gave me a more positive impression of his leadership abilities. You can download it from the net at this site or rent the DVD. I highly recommend it both as a film on Kerry and as a film on the Vietnam experience.

3. I also think that chickens come home to roost. In Bush's case this means his own Vietnam – the war of choice in Iraq. Read this from Newsweek:

....the reality of Iraq—which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks, NEWSWEEK has learned. The insurgents have effectively created a reign of terror throughout the country, killing thousands, driving Iraqi elites and technocrats into exile and scaring foreigners out.

Now consider that the exit polls show that 44% of Americans think things are ‘Going Well’ in Iraq. Of those 90% voted for Bush accounting for about 80% of his total vote. Who is going to let them in on the secret?

4. Rising oil prices and interest rates and other factors could produce a recession in the U.S. in the next year or two. Economists aren't predicting this but they rarely correctly anticipate downturns.

5. Overall the results wound up being almost a replay of last time. Iowa and New Mexico went narrowly for Gore last time and look like they will go just as narrowly to Bush this time. The reverse is true for New Hampshire where Kerry won narrowly. The popular vote is also not all that different. When I input the 2004 popular vote into my presidential model based on 2000, it makes four errors in predicting states. One is New Hampshire, I think for reasons of geography. The others are Oregon, Minnesota and Wisconsin. This tells me that this election has slightly deepened the divide in the U.S. between red and blue.

6. I don’t take Bush’s rhetoric about uniting the U.S. remotely seriously. He will be under enormous pressure to deliver to the cultural conservatives. Some parts of their agenda may have wide public support – law and order, anti-gay rights to name two – but overall it will be very divisive and much of it, such as his stands against abortion and stem cell research, are unpopular. The worst thing that could happen to a socially conservative Republican regime would be to succeed in implementing some of these very unpopular items in their agenda. If the Supreme Court is tilted to the right sufficiently to reverse Roe vs Wade, it could have quite a harmful impact on Republican popularity. These issues work well for Bush now because he can posture about them without having to deliver. He gets the benefits that way without the potential costs success would bring. Update: moderate Republican Arlen Specter will chair the Senate Judiciary Committe and is warning against the nomination of anti-abortion candidates for the Supreme Court, something some of his colleagues will likely find distressing. Update to the update: it now appears that Arlen Specter has had his ears cuffed for striking a moderate position vis-à-vis Supreme Court appointments. Read here.

7. The other issue that will plague him will be the politics of the deficit. The Republicans are now deeply divided between anti-deficit hawks and pro-deficit supply-siders (like Dick Cheney). With Bush’s re-election out of the way they are free to go after each other with gusto. And it won’t be the only meaningful division in Republican ranks.

8. I have long had the hunch that the Republicans are going to be in for an electoral humiliation at some point. Because of the 'war on terror' I didn't think it would be 2004. Will it be 2006?

9. Finally, let me express my exasperation with the inanity of the tv coverage, especially the windbags like NBC's Tim Russert and CNN's Wolf Blitzer. There were, however, a handful of honourable exceptions: George Stephanopolous on ABC and analyst Stu Rothenberg on CNN are always insightful and interesting, primarily because they actually know something about politics.

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