By Andra Gillespie
The 2012 elections are safely behind us, but sadly, our politics have hardly changed. In the days since President Obama won re-election, Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives and Democrats retained control of the Senate, politicians and pundits have all weighed in on the prospects of getting anything done in Washington. The prognosis is not hopeful.
Because the balance of power did not change, both sides appear to merely tweak their old agendas. House Speaker John Boehner for instance, has pledged to work with President Obama to help avoid the fiscal cliff. To his credit, he has offered to consider some revenue increases in concert with budget cuts. However, he still wants a tax rate cut for the highest income bracket.
In reality, it is going to take a lot more effort to bridge the divide between President Obama, House Republicans and Senate Democrats. All sides have their preferred policy positions, but Tuesday’s voters have preferences that must also be considered. Sixty percent of Tuesday’s electorate supported tax increases on at least those with incomes over $250,000. Most of these voters supported President Obama. When you consider that even about 40 percent of Romney voters supported some form of a tax increase, this suggests that Republicans may want to consider further compromise on this issue.
For his part, President Obama has to acknowledge that the public remains deeply divided in its perceptions of his management. While Obama earned high marks for handling international crises, voters were deeply divided in their perceptions of whether Obama, relative to Mitt Romney, could adequately address both the economy and the federal deficit. When we consider that 59 percent of voters cited the economy as the most important issue facing the country this means that President Obama has his work cut out for him.
While President Obama’s victory is a personal vindication of him, he still must prove himself to a large segment of the American population. In Tuesday’s exit polls, voters were asked to pick the one trait that mattered most to them as they selected their presidential candidate: shared values, strong leadership, empathy and having a vision for the future. A plurality of voters (29 percent) considered vision to be the most important trait in a presidential candidate, followed by shared values (27 percent), empathy (21 percent) and strong leadership (18 percent). President Obama was the preferred candidate (by an overwhelming margin) only among those who ranked empathy as the most important trait. In contrast, those who ranked vision and leadership highest were more likely to vote for Mitt Romney.
These findings present both a challenge and an opportunity for President Obama. His supporters clearly think he cares about them.
President Obama’s task, then, is to devise a plan to help facilitate employment, figure out how to frame this plan in a simple, elegant way that resonates with the public, and then skillfully negotiate with Republicans to ensure the passage of his priorities.
Andra Gillespie is an associate professor of political science at Emory University.