- Created: Wednesday, 05 December 2012 14:54
- Written by Steve Palmer
FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013
The 2012 general election is over. Although some $6bn was spent, with $2.6bn on the Presidential race alone, the political landscape has not changed much: Barack Obama was re-elected, and there were slight changes in Congress. With the Senate still controlled by Democrats, and the House of Representatives by Republicans, this split leaves Congress facing the same gridlock it has experienced for the last two years, promising further legislative paralysis. STEVE PALMER, US correspondent, reports.
Both candidates were bankrolled by finance capital and imperialism, and the outcome is that US support for Israel’s blood-thirsty adventures will continue, as will drone attacks on wedding parties on the Pakistan borders.* Nevertheless, this election reflected significant developments within the US political landscape.
In particular, the Republican ‘Southern Strategy’ – the basis of its electoral strategy for the past 50 years – was left in pieces. It was originally developed in the mid-1960s, after civil rights legislation and desegregation led white southerners to reject the Democratic Party. The Republican Party had enjoyed minimal white southern support, but about 90% black support, as the traditional party of Lincoln who had ended slavery. Now the Democrats gathered support from black voters, while the Republicans appealed to the disenchanted white voters by advocating racism in an oblique form. In this ‘dog-whistle’ politics, the underlying racist message is so abstract that it is heard only by its target audience: opposition to ‘forced bussing’ and ‘racial quotas’, and advocacy of ‘States’ rights’ against the Federal government replaces blatant racism.
This strategy worked well for the Republicans for decades. However, by 2010 the proportion of non-Hispanic whites had fallen to 64% of the population. The Democrats were now a coalition based on the support of women, black people, Latinos, youth and a section of white people. Republicans depended overwhelmingly on the support of white voters, concentrated amongst older people (see Table 1).
Romney’s support was overwhelmingly from white voters – almost 90%. Although just over half of Obama’s support was from white voters, the votes of other groups enabled him to win.
In Table 2 we can see clearly the significant contribution to Obama’s victory made by women, younger Americans, non-whites and LGBT voters. Equally obvious is Romney’s dependence on men, older Americans, whites and, in particular, white Evangelicals and Catholics. Projections show that Latinos and Asians will increase their respective shares of the US population from 17% to 29% and from 5% to 9% by 2050, while whites will fall from 63% to less than 50%. Obama drew his support from sections of the population which are going to grow in size in the future. The ‘Southern Strategy’ has run its course.
The gulf between these starkly different constituencies made the Presidential campaign brutal. The depth of the divide was evident in bitter, often vitriolic and explicitly racist exchanges. Throughout the country, Republican-controlled States tried to restrict voting by poor people and people of colour by making voter registration more difficult. Legal skirmishes over these restrictions continued throughout the entire campaign, right down to polling day.
Republicans actually strengthened support for Obama amongst women by their opposition to abortion, by particularly misogynistic remarks about rape and by attacking an advocate of easier access to contraception as a ‘slut’. With their persistent racist attacks denigrating Obama, including images of monkeys with his face and widespread distribution of a video claiming that Obama’s real father had been a black American communist, Republicans did everything – short of putting up ‘We don’t want your votes’ posters – to encourage black support for Obama. Antagonism to ‘illegal immigrants’ and support for militarisation of the Mexican border similarly pushed Latinos toward Obama; homophobic opposition to same-sex marriage did the same for the gay community. An impressive achievement, given that Obama has failed to support important reforms demanded by these groups. While Romney offered blatant oppression and discrimination, Obama offered the more attractive, if empty and illusory, promise of hope.
Defeat for the Republicans brought howls of outraged pain, accusations of voter fraud, petitions for States to secede from the Union and death threats against Obama. Some found the prospect of another Obama presidency so depressing that they committed suicide. The twittersphere was thick with usage of the word ‘nigger’ – in a country where the word is so deeply stigmatised that mainstream media will only refer to it as ‘the N-word’. Clearly a deep, bitter and vindictive divide has opened up. How this plays out in future will be very significant.
The major issue confronting US imperialism is what has become known as the ‘fiscal cliff’. The underlying long-term decline of US capitalism has been mitigated by a steady expansion of debt. However, the impossibility of accumulating debt into the infinite future has impressed itself on the ruling class, mainly as a result of the 2007 financial crisis, since when reduction in government deficit financing has become the central domestic issue. The ‘fiscal cliff’ is the package of tax increases and cuts in government expenditure which will be automatically implemented on 1 January 2013, unless Congress can agree an alternative. Tax increases will occur because of the expiration of various tax cuts made in the past.
The direct result of ‘going over’ the ‘fiscal cliff’ will reduce the deficit by approximately $560bn. The consequence of this massive reduction has been estimated as a decline in GDP growth of somewhere in the region of 3.5% to 5%, sending the economy into another full-blown recession and increasing unemployment. The indirect effect of the ‘fiscal cliff’ is the current cutbacks in investment by companies due to the uncertain outcome after 1 January.
Potentially even more damaging to US capitalism is the rapidly approaching need to raise the debt ceiling – the Congressionally determined limit on the amount of Federal borrowing. The exact date when this will occur is uncertain, but we are just weeks away. Congressional Republicans widely regard this limit as giving them leverage over the Obama administration in the talks to resolve the ‘fiscal cliff’. However, failure to raise this limit could be far more disastrous for the US economy than going over the cliff: a halt to Federal borrowing will lead to far larger and swifter cuts in Federal spending. How a compromise can be negotiated within the time limit is impossible to know and difficult to foresee, given the ideological divide between the two sides and the smouldering resentment among the conservative wing of the Republicans. We may soon be treated to the spectacle of one section of the US ruling class, cutting off its nose to spite its face, pushing US capitalism over the cliff into another deep recession.
* See FRFI 229, ‘US presidential election: no choice but imperialism’,
Table 1 – Share of candidates’ support from different groups
Whites 88% 56%
Blacks 2% 24%
Latino 6% 14%
Asian 2% 4%
Other 2% 2%
Total 100% 100%
Table 2 – Split of groups’ votes between candidates
Group Share in total vote % Split between candidates %
Obama Romney Other
Total 100 51 48 1
Men ? 47 44 52 2
Women ? 53 55 44 1
Married Women 31 46 53 1
Unmarried Women 23 67 31 2
Age: 18–29 years 19 60 37 3
30–44 years 27 52 45 3
45–64 years 38 47 51 2
65 + years 16 44 56 0
White ? 72 39 59 2
Black ? 13 93 ?6 1
Latino ? 10 71 27 2
Asian ?? 3 73 26 1
Other ?? 2 58 38 4
LGBT ?? 5 71 22 7
White Evangelical 26 21 78 1
White Catholic 18 40 59 1
Jewish ?? 2 69 30 1