“Hope and Change” has found a second wind.
Four years after then-Senator Barack Obama rode an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm and optimism all the way to his election as the first African-American president of the United States, the Democratic incumbent succeeded in his re-election bid Tuesday night.
President Obama emphatically overcame the challenge of Republican nominee and former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney to win a second term in the Oval Office, securing 303 electoral votes to Romney’s 206. Twenty-nine Electoral College votes from Florida remain unallocated at the time of publication.
Stanford professors largely described the lopsided electoral outcome as expected, arguing that national and state polls had indicated such an outcome throughout the general election campaign.
“I’m not even remotely surprised,” said Gary Segura, professor of political science. “The race went almost exactly the way professionals said it would go.”
Jon Krosnick, professor of communication, argued that greater public awareness of the details of Obama’s signature 2010 health care law and less racial intolerance among the electorate might have further extended the scale of Obama’s triumph.
“If the public had been better educated…or if anti-black attitudes were not as prevalent, his margin of victory would have been quite a bit larger,” Krosnick argued.
David Kennedy, professor of history, took the opposing viewpoint, noting the historical lack of precedent for the re-election of a Democrat incumbent in times of economic struggles.
“It wasn’t predictable by any means,” Kennedy said. “He’s only the second Democrat to be elected to a second term since FDR. He was also bucking the unemployment numbers.”
“We’re excited to see where we go from here”
The Stanford Democrats, watching the election unfold at the Treehouse campus eatery, rapidly shifted from apprehensive suspense to celebration, viewing Obama’s victory as the culmination of months of student campaigning and dedication.
“I’m nervous because I feel like it’s a lot closer than a lot of pundits predicted,” said Bianca Chavez ’15 as the first set of states reported their results. “After working on this campaign for the last three months, the thought of losing terrifies me.”
Even as caution turned to exultation, liberal students started looking ahead to Obama’s second term. Lindsay Lamont ’13, president of Stanford Democrats, insisted that Obama will immediately turn his attention to pressing issues facing the nation.
“We’ll hit the ground running,” Lamont said. “We’re excited to see where we go from here.”
In his victory speech, Obama expressed similar sentiments, establishing a second-term agenda of rapidly increasing equality and opportunity.
“Tonight…the task of perfecting our union moves forward,” Obama said, after a raucous welcome from the assembled Chicago crowd and repeated chants of “four more years.”
“It moves forward because of you,” Obama added. “We are an American family and we rise and fall together as one nation.”
Conservative students, who gathered in the Mitchell Earth Sciences Building to watch the election, framed Obama’s victory as somewhat expected, if disappointing, and noted that the Republican Party’s retention of the House of Representatives will preserve some Republican influence.
“I’m disappointed, obviously,” said Kenny Capps ’13, a Stanford Conservative Society officer. “It was going to be super close, but [Obama] was probably expected to win, so as far as that goes I’m pleased. [Romney] did better than McCain did, so that’s good.”
While Obama’s 2008 call for change prompted a remarkable outpouring of support from students on campus and across the nation, the impact of a bitterly partisan political atmosphere and the subsequent Congressional stalemate over the past few years was evident last night in the increased preference of student groups for private election viewings over the raucous celebrations of 2008.
“I think 2008 was a special moment in the country’s history, one that young people were an integral part of,” wrote Elise Timtim ’13, chair of Stanford in Government (SIG), in a prepared statement. SIG co-hosted a 2008 election-viewing event at the CoHo, which drew 500 students.
“A large, campus-wide celebration [in 2008] was appropriate and necessary,” Timtim added. The most attended public viewing this year, the Stanford Democrats’ event, drew only 50 students.
“Right back where we started?”
Even as Obama supporters savor Tuesday’s hard-fought victory, attention will soon turn to the policies that an Obama administration may pursue in its second term. The nation’s continuing economic struggles, as well as an approaching debt ceiling debate and the “fiscal cliff” combination of domestic spending cuts and Bush tax cut expirations set to kick in at the end of the year, will likely prompt action from Obama even before his second inauguration, although his ability to do so effectively was questioned by some faculty.
“We’re essentially right back where we started,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think we should look to the reelected president for any grand vision of what the future holds and we should not have expectations of grand visions going forward…He did not get in this election the type of mandate that will allow him to get bold initiatives on those [issues].”
“We’re looking at a very close popular vote, we’re looking at little change in Congress, and I think there are just a lot of contradictions out there and we haven’t fully decided what to do about the problems we face,” said Morris Fiorina, professor of political science. “We’re reluctant to really make any hard choices at this point, and I must say I’m a little discouraged about what the future holds.”
In a concession speech to supporters in Boston, Romney congratulated Obama and recognized the need for bipartisan collaboration to resolve the most pressing issues facing the nation.
“This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation,” Romney said.
Cory Booker ’91 M.A. ’92, the mayor of Newark, N.J., framed his state’s unified response to Hurricane Sandy — in which N.J. Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, worked closely with Obama — as evidence that crises could prompt greater collaboration between the two parties. He credited the “strength that comes through unity” for the ability to work through crises.
For the Republican Party, the future is less clear. Romney’s nomination of Paul Ryan, a conservative congressman from Wisconsin, as his running mate was reflective of the Party’s shift to a more fiscally and socially right-wing stance. With Romney’s defeat and the inability of the GOP to obtain a majority in the Senate despite extensive external support and funding, however, where the party goes from here will be the subject of much internal and public debate.
In his concession speech, Romney applauded Ryan’s work within the Romney-Ryan ticket’s electoral campaign, tacitly acknowledging him as a potential future party leader.
“I’d like to thank Paul Ryan for all he’s done for our campaign and our country,” Romney said. “Beside my wife Ann, Paul is the best choice I’ve ever made.”
Clayborne Carson, professor of history, argued that the emphatic electoral defeat might prompt the Republican Party to return to more centrist policies.
“Maybe this will send another message,” Carson said. “If Obama has a successful second term and they lose a few more elections, they’ll either become irrelevant as a political party or get the message that they have to change.”
“How much do Republicans want to rethink where they’ve been? They’ve lost Senate seats because of the way their primary politics work [and] they lost at least two tonight on that basis,” said Jack Rakove, professor of political science.
Reviewing the election’s outcome, Carson drew attention to the significance of Obama’s re-election as an African-American incumbent.
“The biggest thing it showed [was] that the American electorate has changed,” Carson said. “A majority of white Americans have not voted for a democratic presidential candidate in 50 years…That’s what the election showed, that if you have a candidate that can turn out voters and if all segments of the voting population vote in equal numbers, a candidate like Obama is going to win.”
For some students watching at the Black Community Services Center, however, Obama’s race is of immediate importance to their political participation.
“I think it gives [the black community] more reason to stay engaged and know that a lot of the issues that we hold near and dear as the Stanford community and the black community are issues that our president cares about as well,” said Garry Mitchell ’13.
Beyond the significance of Obama’s race, the election also signaled the growing significance of Hispanic voters within the electorate, particularly in swing states such as Colorado where Romney’s hardline stance on immigration may have cost him electorally.
“It’s entirely possible that the Latino community put the President over the top,” Segura said, who still played down the likelihood of comprehensive immigration reform in Obama’s second term. “It’s the first time in history.”
Looking beyond the United States, Larry Diamond ’73 M.A. ’78 Ph.D. ’80, Hoover Institution senior fellow, suggested that Obama’s re-election may improve perceptions of the United States abroad and lead to a less confrontational foreign policy towards rising powers like China while maintaining a strong posture towards regional threats such as Iran.
“Iran is definitely the most difficult foreign policy issue he [Obama] will have to deal with in the next four years,” Diamond said.
Obama will enter his second term faced with significant challenges but, removed from the pressures of re-election, with much less to lose. In his Chicago victory speech, he was adamant that his second term will bring renewed opportunities and advances for the nation as a whole.
“We know that, in our hearts, for the United States of America, the best is yet to come,” Obama said. “I’ve never been more hopeful about our future…I’ve never been more hopeful about America.”
Marianne LeVine, Aaron Sekhri, Ed Ngai, Austin Block, Alice Phillips, Julia Enthoven, Kristian Bailey and Kurt Chirbas contributed to this report.