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Take-away from US election: Obama's 'small' issues won big

There was no single grand message that was going to win over voters in 2012 – from President Obama or Mitt Romney. A big reason is because America is so diverse and divided, and will likely continue to be.

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President Obama pauses as he speaks at the election night victory party in Chicago Nov. 7. Op-ed contributor Dante Chinni writes: 'While Mr. Obama carried voters who said health care or foreign policy were their top issues, these can hardly be considered “small.” Foreign policy is a big issue by any measure and health care was considered a huge issue by both sides.'

Carolyn Kaster/AP/file

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In the weeks since the US presidential election, many analysts have tried to explain the results. One meme in particular has taken root: that President Obama won reelection with a campaign of “small” issues that divided America into different groups, while Mitt Romney lost with a broad attempt to unite America on the economy.

But the evidence is weak. Exit polls showed Mr. Romney narrowly carried the day on the economy. And while Mr. Obama carried voters who said health care or foreign policy were their top issues, these can hardly be considered “small.” Foreign policy is a big issue by any measure, and health care was considered a huge issue by both sides.

And as outgoing Pew Research Center director Andrew Kohut has noted, on several key social issues, Republicans stand on the wrong side of public opinion: 59 percent believe abortion should be legal, and 65 percent support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

In other words, supporting those policies isn’t about dividing the nation into subgroups by supporting “women” (who are a majority of voters) or “Hispanics.” It is about supporting positions most Americans hold.

More to the point, what actually is a “small” issue? Supporting farm subsidies may be seen as pandering to the rural vote if you live in New York City, but it is a serious, directly crucial matter on the Great Plains. Such issues make rhetoric about government real.

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