Four More Years

Professor Christopher Arterton discusses President Barack Obama’s route to victory and what to expect over the next four years.

GW students headed to the White House late Tuesday night after learning that President Barack Obama had been re-elected.
November 07, 2012

President Barack Obama has clinched a comfortable win, defeating challenger Gov. Mitt Romney with more than 300 electoral votes and earning four more years in the White House.

Across the George Washington University campus and the District, hundreds of students, faculty and staff attended watch parties Tuesday evening—sponsored by the Graduate School of Political Management, College Democrats and College Republicans—to track the results trickling in, monitor the university’s live tweeting with the #GWElectionDay hashtag—and, of course, stay in close enough proximity to stop by the White House at the end of the night.

To make sense of all the commentary and analysis, George Washington Today spoke with Christopher Arterton, professor of political management, about President Obama’s road to victory, why Gov. Mitt Romney came up short, and what to expect in the president’s 2012-16 agenda.

Q: Can you pinpoint certain points of Obama’s strategy or platform that got him the win? And where did Romney misstep or come up short? 

A: Obama followed the Bill Clinton strategy (from 1996 against Bob Dole) of pouncing on his opponent before he could pivot toward the general election. In some battleground states, we never saw the early October “debate bounce” probably because of the massive negative advertising over the summer.

Second, Obama’s five-year effort to fund and build a strong ground game in 10 to 11 battleground states proved to be a wise investment.

Romney’s problems go to the heart of the Republican Party and the need to maintain support of the conservative base while appealing to the more centrist general election audience in presidential years.

I also think that neither candidate established a clear, simple, single theme or question in the minds of the voters as to what was at stake in the election. Romney wandered between an assault on Obama’s performance and a fundamental choice over the role of government. And he poked at Benghazi, which took him off message for three or four days. 

Q: Battleground states were obviously important in this election. What states won this battle for Obama?

A: I think you’d have to point toward Ohio, Virginia and Colorado as the three states that made it difficult for Romney to get to 270 electoral college votes.

Q: Did we see a different Obama than the one in 2008? If so, how?

A: Incumbency ties candidates down in practical realities of policy and politics. The soaring, inspiring rhetoric of 2008 has been replaced by the concrete necessity of getting things done. It’s not that transformational leadership isn’t essential in modern democratic politics, but I accept the popular quote from former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose.

Q: Most polls, including the POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll, showed a much tighter race, but Obama ended up with roughly 100 more electoral votes. Why do you think this is?

A: The polls depend on turnout models. Participation of youth, ages 18 to 30, jumped from 18 percent in 2008 to 19 percent yesterday and Hispanic participation notched up from 8 percent to 10 percent. Meanwhile, white voting power dropped from 74 percent to 72 percent. Therein lays the shift from sample survey projections to exit poll results. 

Q: And finally, what are we looking at in terms of Obama’s agenda over the next four years, particularly since it appears the status quo will be maintained in the House and Senate?

A: He’s got to solve the fiscal cliff problem and will want to make some progress—probably limited—on immigration. Second-term presidents often exhibit a greater emphasis on foreign policy. If the Republicans display the same resistance to Obama’s proposals in the domestic arena, foreign affairs will become all the more attractive to the president.