USA 2012: Results wrap


Tuesday’s election was definitely a strong result for the Democrats, with Republicans picking up the scraps with a few victories.

The Democrats performed very strongly in the presidential race, with Obama achieving a slim majority of the popular vote and holding on to most of the states he won in 2008. He lost Indiana, North Carolina and the single electoral vote he gained in Nebraska. Obama is narrowly ahead in Florida, which would give him 332 electoral votes compared to 206 for Mitt Romney.

This victory isn’t quite as big as in 2008, but it’s not a tight result either. Obama in the end was declared the victory with the key states of Virginia and Florida when he pulled ahead in Ohio. Once you added in victories for Obama in Nevada and Colorado, Obama’s margin was such that he could have won even if Romney had won the three key states of Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

Obama is the first Democrat to win with a majority of the popular vote for two elections in a row since Franklin Delano Roosevelt did it four times a row in the 1930s and 1940s.

The result, as has been pointed out widely, was precisely what was predicted by Nate Silver at his FiveThirtyEight blog. He predicted 49 states and the District of Columbia correctly. He also called Florida to Barack Obama by a tiny margin – which is exactly reflected in the latest count in the only state left undecided.

While this is impressive, it has also been pointed out that most aggregators of polls predicted a similar result – overall the victory was for accurate pollsters, and the ability of aggregators like Nate Silver to use polling history to judge which pollsters can be trusted and which can’t.

Overall the result was a positive one for progressives and Democrats when you look at other races, although not uniformly so.

You can now download Google Earth electoral maps showing the new 2012 Congressional districts from the Tally Room maps page. The maps are quite large files and may not work on slower computers. I haven’t yet had time to ensure all seats are correctly coloured for the result of the election – most show which party won the most similar seat in 2010.

Read more about election results after the fold…

When you move away from the presidential race and analyse the Senate, you find a result that was remarkably strong for the Democrats. The Democrats came into the 2012 election with 43% of their caucus facing election, compared to only 21% for the Republicans. The Republicans only needed four seats to win control of the Senate.

So far, however, the Democrats look set to increase their numbers from 53 seats to 55 seats, including independents considered likely to caucus with the Democrats.

Democrats gained Republican seats in Massachusetts and Indiana, while a left-leaning independent gained another Republican seat in Maine. The Republicans gained only one Democratic seat in Nebraska where possibly the most right-wing member of the Democratic caucus retired.

Democrats also retained seats in Montana, North Dakota and Missouri which they were widely tipped to lose – all three in states won by Mitt Romney.

Within the Democratic caucus, they have moved to the left. Ben Nelson in Nebraska was at the right-wing end of the caucus. In his place, the caucus has been joined by progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin.

Joe Lieberman, who still technically caucused with the Democrats but has moved far to the right since he was the party’s Vice-Presidential nominee in 2000 and was forced out of the party in the 2006 Senate primary, has been replaced by a more down-the-line Democrat in Connecticut.

The Democrats’ position in the Senate was considered highly vulnerable with such a large number of incumbents. However the Dems now have 25 seats, a quarter of the Senate, locked in for the next six years.

In 2014, the Democrats will be defending 20 seats and the Republicans 13 seats. While there will still be a number of vulnerable Democrats in red states (Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, North Carolina), there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the Republicans will struggle to pick up many of these seats.

In the House, the story is better for the Republicans. The Democrats have gained one seat with a further seven too close to call. The Democrats made a comeback in a number of areas, but severe gerrymandering in a number of states by Republicans allowed them to win a large majority of House seats while losing the state’s Senate and presidential races. Particularly egregious examples are in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

After California reformed its system to rid the state of gerrymandering, it might be time for Democrats to consider the benefits of pushing for stronger reforms in other states to rid themselves of partisan gerrymandering once and for all.

Apart from federal elections, there were a few fascinating results in referendums. In the past, any popular vote on gay rights has usually sided with the anti-gay side, and as recently as 2004 it was considered an effective tactic to push up evangelical turnout for Republicans to put anti-gay measures on the ballot in swing states.

However at least two states either passed marriage equality laws or rejected attempts to overturn marriage equality laws at the ballot, and the race in a third state is too close to call but leaning to the pro-equality side. In a fourth state, an attempt to enshrine opposition to gay marriage in the Minnesota state constitution was rejected by voters.

In Washington and Colorado, voters approved a plan to tax and regulate marijuana in a similar way to alcohol. This is a step further than policies to decriminalise marijuana or permit marijuana use on medicinal grounds, and it will be interesting to see if the federal government quashes these policies or respects the popular vote.

I’ll come back over the next week with a few more posts about the US election and the US electoral system, before returning to my work preparing The Tally Room guide to the 2013 Australian federal election.

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  1. Democrats recorded a majority of the popular vote for the House of Representatives – I think around 51% while the Republicans will have around 54% of the seats.

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