Election winners and losers

Americans voted in large numbers. But voters need to be better served at the polls. Meanwhile, Republicans must pause to reflect.

Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters
Voters stand in line to cast their ballots at Hartford City Hall in Hartford, Conn., during the US presidential election Nov. 6.

The meaning of the 2012 US elections will be the subject of debate and discussion for some time to come. But even in these first days some conclusions and questions are clear.

One conclusion: There is much to be grateful for. The race for president produced a clear winner, and there are no lingering legal challenges to the outcome. Whether President Obama won a “mandate” is arguable, but by winning both the popular vote and the electoral college by indisputable margins his victory was decisive. The president and new Congress now are able to go to work right away addressing the country’s challenges, as President Obama did Friday with his remarks on the coming “fiscal cliff.”

The election also produced a heavy turnout of voters eager to participate in their democracy. New voters, young voters, and African-Americans and Hispanics participated in large numbers, reflecting the diverse American society.

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Despite concerns that huge amounts of money spent by political action committees would skew the results, many candidates backed by large PAC-financed advertising campaigns did not win their races. Money was less influential than expected. Voters thought for themselves.

Another conclusion: The election also shows that the political process in the United States continues to evolve. Polling guru Nate Silver suggests that shifting demographics and voting patterns mean the electoral college system now favors the Democratic presidential candidate. He estimates that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney would have needed to win the popular vote by about 3 percent in order to win enough states to win the electoral college, and thus the election.

That’s because Romney won decisively in many “red” states. Mr. Obama won more narrowly in “blue” and swing states but they represented far more electoral votes. Thus Obama won the popular vote by only 50 percent to 48 percent but was an overwhelming 332 to 206 winner in the electoral college.

A third conclusion: Much is already being made of the “soul searching” now evident within the Republican Party. But this is the requisite job of the losing party in any election. Clearly the party needs to broaden its base demographically beyond white voters, a strong majority of whom voted for the GOP. It needs in particular to increase its appeal to the growing number of Hispanic voters. That would suggest taking a more balanced approach to immigration.

The GOP lost the presidential race despite unemployment hovering near 8 percent. Romney did all he could to portray Obama as having failed as a job creator. Yet Romney lost. Did the GOP run the wrong candidate, use the wrong strategy, or fail to build a strong “ground game” to get out the vote? Or does the party need to shift its position on some issues? Republicans must sort out those questions over the coming months.

One improvement is clearly needed: Voters in many places waited far too long, many hours in some cases, to cast their ballots. The states and cities in charge of balloting must resolve to serve their citizens better. Thousands of voters valued their right to vote so highly that they endured long waiting lines. That is heartening. They deserved to treated better.

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