“A lot of it comes down to the economy,” says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California. “If the economy were stronger the president would be doing better, if it were weaker Mitt Romney might [have won]. But it was just good enough to push the president over the finish line.”
Obama’s victory had been predicted by most pollsters in recent days, but his narrower margin of victory versus 2008 makes it harder for him to claim a strong mandate and puts him in a somewhat weaker position as president.
Still, given the high unemployment rate, weak economy, and relatively low presidential approval ratings, the fact that Democrats retained both the presidency and their control of the Senate was a big coup for their party – or, perhaps more accurately, a big loss for Republicans, and possibly a wakeup call for the Republican party as it looks to its future.
All the dynamics in place should have helped Republicans unseat the incumbent, and yet they were unable to do so. While the vote was close, it wasn’t as close as some had expected.
Expect a lot of finger-pointing in coming days as Republican insiders decide where to lay blame: whether with Romney, considered a weak, gaffe-prone candidate by many, or with his campaign managers, or even hurricane Sandy.
Particularly disturbing for Republicans may be what exit polls showed about demographics. Women, Hispanics, and young people helped propel Obama to victory. There was about a 10-point gender gap, with exit polls showing 54 percent of women voting for Obama compared with 44 percent of women for Romney.