On the face of it, not much changed last night. After a campaign in which an estimated $2 billion was spent, the White House, Senate and House of Representatives are all in the same hands as they were when polls opened. But in a greater sense, last night signalled a significant shift in the United States; an important election, possibly even on par with Barack Obama’s monumental victory in 2008.
With the election today, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of analysis, statistics and predictions coming from all sides. Spend any amount of time on Twitter, Facebook or a news site and you will hear everything ranging from an Obama landslide to a comfortable Romney win, by way of an electoral college tie. Even the most informed observers of the election appear to put forward wildly different opinions on how today will go, as pollsters contradict each other’s numbers, pundits’ predictions clash and campaigns accuse polling data of being ideological and ‘skewed’. Hopefully this post will go some way towards clearing up some confusion and give non-Americans in particular a better idea of what to expect over the next twenty-four hours.
Watching the vice presidential debate on Thursday night, the informed viewer could not help but be struck with certain impressions about the evening and its differences from its presidential equivalent last week. While last week’s clash saw the Republican challenger take the game to the Democratic incumbent, forcing him into a passive corner, Thursday saw the opposite, with Joe Biden harrying Paul Ryan, challenging his assertions and refusing to allow what he saw as misrepresentations of either side’s policies. It was, as the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald wrote, ‘a pure reversal of the first presidential debate, but on steroids‘.
It is fair to say that the first of this campaign’s presidential debates did not go exactly as anticipated. We were told to expect a policy-light affair, in which the candidates would focus on landing ‘zingers’, and in the end President Obama would win. This did not turn out to be the case. The candidates engaged in real policy discussion, soundbites were surprisingly few and far between, and importantly, unmistakably, Mitt Romney came out on top.
Many people will be familiar with the sense that an acquaintance who is nice to them in person may be less than complimentary as soon as their back is turned. Perhaps a mutual friend tips them off, perhaps they walk into a room and feel the atmosphere change, or perhaps that acquaintance is secretly filmed addressing a room of wealthy donors and the video is posted online.
Though the Republican National Convention has been over for a few days now, the speakers moved on to other commitments, and the Democratic equivalent in full swing, it still has an odd, rather incomplete feel to it. The customary bump in the polls which usually follows a convention has failed to properly materialise for Mitt Romney, no real issues of significant substance seem to have arisen, and the candidate even lost the news cycle the next day to an empty chair.