What Did the US Presidential Election Mean?

With the votes almost all counted and the winners of the various races decided, we can start to analyze the 2012 elections. There were some clear trends at all levels of the election. So what we can take away? Here are a few of the trends.

Tea Party candidates were rejected
Aside from the presidential election, the Senate and House races in 2012 were also an important metric for the United States, as they marked the first true test of the Tea Party rhetoric after the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterms. During the primaries, the Tea Party seemed like it was performing well at the Senate level. In Texas, Tea Party activist Ted Cruz narrowly defeated lieutenant governor David Dewhurst in the Senate Republican primary. In Indiana, six-term senator Dick Lugar had earned ire from Tea Party activists due to siding with the Democrats on several bills including the DREAM Act and some gun control bills. Lugar, running for his seventh senate term, was defeated in the Republican primary by the Tea Party backed candidate, Richard Mourdock.

However, in the general campaign, the more vocal Tea Party-backed Republican candidates did not fare well. Ted Cruz won the Texas senate race, but Mourdock did not. Mourdock and Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, ruined their chances at election late in the campaign after both candidates made controversial comments regarding abortion policy in cases of rape. The Missouri senate race, in what was expected to be a defeat for incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill for much of the year, ended with Akin soundly losing and receiving under 40 percent of the vote. Richard Mourdock did better in the Indiana race, but still lost the seat to Democrat Joe Donnelly that Senator Lugar had held since 1977. In the House, two of the most outspoken Representatives associated with the Tea Party also faced difficult election campaigns in normally solid Republican districts. Representative Allen West of Florida’s 18th district was narrowly defeated by Democrat Patrick Murphy. Michele Bachmann, who ran in the Republican primary but ultimately dropped out, barely won the race for her Minnesota seat by only 4,000 votes. Even Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate and strict fiscal conservative, faced a tough campaign to keep his seat in the Milwaukee suburbs. In all but his first race in 1998, Ryan had never received less than 63 percent of the vote in Wisconsin’s 1st district while his challenger never received more than 37 percent. However in the 2012 campaign against Rob Zerban, Representative Ryan won only 55 percent while Zerban won 43.5 percent.

A good result for Gary Johnson
For much of the election campaign, the media ignored all of the third party candidates. In late October, many outlets in the media began reporting on the possibility of Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party as being a spoiler in the election for either President Obama or Governor Romney. The spoiler effect did not materialize on Tuesday, however, and Gary Johnson received only 0.9 percent of the national popular vote. While this was not enough to have any significant impact in any state (not even Florida), it was a very good result for a third party in a standard election year. Additionally, Gary Johnson became the first Libertarian presidential candidate to receive over one million votes. The Libertarians performed particularly well in a few states. Johnson received 3.5% of the vote in his home state of New Mexico, and over 2% of the vote in Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, and Maine.

Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia were cemented as swing states
One of the big questions going into 2012 was how much of President Obama’s overwhelming victory in 2008 was going to be permanent and how much of it was a one-time result due to dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and the Republican Party. It was certain, for example, that Obama’s carrying of Indiana in 2008 was an anomaly and that the President was not going to carry the state again this time around. However, with other 2008 swing states such as Colorado and Virginia, their results in 2012 were more difficult to predict. Now after the election, it is evident that these states have shifted from being fairly solid Republican to even battlegrounds, or possibly leaning Democratic.

But why is this? For a long time, all of the Mountain West was considered solid Republican territory, and prior to 2008 Virginia has voted Republican since Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964. However, recent trends of urbanization and growing minority populations have made these states more liberal. Nevada, the country’s fastest growing state over the last decade, had a population increase of over 33% in the past decade. Growth among Nevada’s Hispanic population accounted for almost half of the state’s total growth, and Hispanics now number almost a quarter of the state’s population. In Colorado, the Denver metropolitan area has seen an influx of people and now makes up almost 60% of the state’s 5 million people. This growth has made the suburban Jefferson and Adams counties more densely populated and more educated, trending the two countries often seen as bellwethers for the state toward the Democratic Party. In Virginia, almost half of the state’s population growth over the past decade has occurred in Fairfax, Louodun, and Prince William counties, along with the neighboring independent cities. This growth is due to the outward expansion of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. These facotrs in Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia have led to permanent demographic changes in these states that have shifted them away from the present ideology of the Republicans and more competitive.

The First Steps Toward Marijuana Legalisation
One of the major issues in the state ballot initiatives during the elections was the legalisation of marijuana. Three states; Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, had initiatives on the ballot to legalise recreational marijuana. Two more states, Massachusetts and Arkansas, had ballot measures to legalise medical marijuana. Of these five measures, three of them passed. Support for marijuana legalisation has been growing over the past few years, with the effects of the drug war in Mexico becoming more apparent to the American public and with American attitudes toward cannabis changing. Colorado and Washington were two of the states that passed their measures, making them the first two places in the United States, if not in the world, to fully legalise cannabis. Colorado’s measure is significant because it adapts many of the current restrictions on alcohol to its marijuana regulation, so the legal framework for the measure in the event of its passage was already in place. Oregon rejected its legalisation initiative. Meanwhile, Massachusetts joined the now 18 states that have legalised medical marijuana. Arkansas’s measure almost made that state the 19th, but failed 51 percent to 49 percent.

The Fifty-First State?
Another significant measure in this year’s elections occurred not in a state, but in Puerto Rico. On the 6th, Puerto Rican’s voted on a two-part referendum on the island’s status within the United States. The first section of the referendum was on whether the current status of Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory should be kept. 54 percent of Puerto Ricans voted against maintaining the island’s current status. The second part of the referendum had Puerto Ricans vote on whether they would prefer statehood, independence, or becoming a sovereign free associated state, regardless of how they voted in the previous question. On the second question, 61 percent of the votes cast supported Puerto Rico becoming a state. This marked the first time since the United States took the island in 1898 that Puerto Ricans have solidly expressed interest in being admitted as a state. However, the referendum was non-binding and Puerto Ricans also elected Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party, which opposes statehood, as the island’s new governor. Statehood would also require passage through Congress, which seems unlikely in the current heated political climate. While the island may not become a state in the immediate future, if progress continues, the United States could have its 51st state in this decade. It would be the first time the country has added a state in over half a century.

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