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Constitutional (and Other) Lessons from the Election

The president’s decisive 60+% electoral college victory can be contrasted, of course, with his very narrow popular vote margin.  Our Constitution has the effect of magnifying his win, giving it something of the feel of a mandate.  The  president has decided not to comment on how darn close the popular vote is.

So we can say our Constitution’s electoral system has helped to energize his second term.  It would have had the opposite effect had he actually lost the popular vote.

From a genuinely constitutional view, this election pretty much reproduced the last one. Romney only managed to flip the two states Obama most unexpectedly and narrowly carried last time—Indiana and North Carolina.

There is something troubling about our electoral system focusing the campaign on the same few states time and again.  Despite what happened in all the other states, we’re inclined to say that Obama trounced Romney in “the real campaign.”

Obama’s superior ground game in Ohio and Florida, in particular, reminds us of the way President Bush gained reelection in 2004.  The difference, of course, is that Bush also increased his percentage of the national popular vote.

So what’s new about Obama’s reelection is his diminished totals in both popular and electoral vote.  His defenders will say it’s remarkable that he was reelected at all given the rate of unemployment and all that.  But he’s still stuck with the challenge that no other president has ever entered his second term with less of an electoral mandate than he had for his first term.

Still, I tend to think that the main reason for the president’s reelection is the significant increase in his number of Americans who approve of his job performance over the last couple of weeks.  Exit polls showed it to be 54%.  His statesmanlike response to Sandy had something, at least, to do with that.

With all due respect to Nate Silver’s BIG DATA, it’s the ordinary national polls that were most vindicated by the election’s outcome.  They were on the money when they predicted that the turnout of various groups would be very similar to 2008.  And their consensus view on the eve of the election that Obama would win by 1% or so couldn’t have been more accurate.

We saw in those polls Romney both take a lead and then lose it over the last few weeks of the campaign.  He was, I think, largely responsible for gaining the lead (through his debate performance) and then losing it by “playing not to lose” over the last days of the campaign (and even in the last two debates).

The only good news for the Republicans is that they held on to the margin they gained in the House in 2010.  So we once again have “divided government.”  In addition to separation of powers, we have a check on the presidency not intended by our Framers.  The result is “gridlock.”

Or the result might be compromise.  The main reason the Republicans didn’t compromise much with the president for the last two years is that they hoped to get him out of the White House.  Well, THAT didn’t work for them.


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