Well, the big news is that Barack Obama has been re-elected as President of the United States. In the end, it wasn’t even close. Obama’s win in Florida (which, as Jon Stewart points out, he didn’t need) means he finished with 332 electoral college votes to Romney’s 206, and roughly 61 million popular votes to beat Romney’s 58 million.
The margin could be bigger — in 2008 Obama won 365 electoral college votes to John McCain’s 173, and 70 million votes to 60 million — and given the status quo of a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House but a Republican House of Representatives, it’s tempting to believe that, despite the years of campaigning and the billions spent, nothing at all changed. The Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, has already launched the first salvo of Obama’s second term, arguing in a statement that:
"The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the President’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control."
And it does seem that way if you’re just looking at the raw numbers, or the big picture of who controls which chamber of Congress. But Americans voted on a number of important measures further down the ballot, the results of which appear to paint a picture of an electorate leaning left-ward and moving progressively forward.
Obama’s coalition of minorities
Much has been made of the Republican Party’s over-reliance on older rural male voters as the core of their constituency. In the presidential vote, Mitt Romney won the male vote 52/45, had strong support from voters over 45 and won almost 60 per cent of votes cast by rural voters. But President Obama received similar support from women voters (55/44), voters 18-29 years old (60/37) and voters in cities (62/36), all larger constituencies than the Romney equivalents.
To underscore this point, have a look at the demographics of the Democratic caucus of the 113th Congress, whose terms begins on 3 January: 61 women, 43 African Americans, 27 Hispanics, 10 Asian Americans and 6 LGBT Americans.
A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the Tea Party
The ultra-conservative wing of the Republican party stormed into the national conversation when they led the charge at the 2010 mid-term elections, picking up 63 seats in the most transformative election since 1948.
But this year the Tea Party candidates for the Republican nomination — Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and, to a lesser extent, Rick Santorum — never seriously challenged Mitt Romney, the accepted wisdom being that they would never be able to muster enough support to win a general election.
And on Tuesday, they fared even worse. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock — high-profile members of what The Atlantic has dubbed "the GOP’s Rape Apologist Caucus" — both convincingly lost their contests; Allen West lost his Florida congressional seat (although he plans to contest the result); Bachmann herself was barely reelected by the narrowest of margins, and Representative Joe Walsh lost a bitter re-election campaign.
But, sadly, it doesn’t seem as though all this will inspire a bout of soul-searching: the votes haven’t been fully counted yet, and already Tea Party leaders are blaming Romney and the Republican establishment for not being "conservative enough".
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, same-sex marriage advocates had suffered 32 straight defeats at the ballot, a losing streak that stretched back to 1998. But, now, they have four victories to celebrate in four different states:
Voters in Maine have repealed an existing law banning same-sex marriage, and in the same measure voted in favour of the state issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples, as well as recognising same-sex marriages performed in other states.
In Maryland, citizens voted in favour of a new law that allows same-sex marriage in the state.
In Minnesota, voters rejected a measure that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and which would have therefore made same-sex marriage illegal. This doesn’t mean that same-sex marriage is now legal in Minnesota, but it does leave open the possibility of it becoming legal in the future.
In Washington state, voters were asked to approve a new state law that legalised same-sex marriage in the state. At the time of writing the law seems headed for approval, with 52 per cent voting in favour of same-sex marriage.
Colorado and Washington State voted in favour of an amendment to the state constitution that legalises "the production, possession, and distribution of marijuana" for persons 21 and older — putting it on a similar footing with alcohol and cigarettes.
Massachusetts has voted to legalise marijuana for medical purposes, 63/37.
Maryland voters approved a local version of the proposed DREAM Act, a long-debated federal program that provides a pathway to American citizenship for illegal immgrants. Obviously, the Maryland result won’t change federal immigration policy, but as a result of this vote undocumented immigrants will pay the same as citizens for tuition at public colleges, provided they complete certain schooling requirements beforehand. It’s a huge boost for immigrant families, reducing the cost of tuition by over 70 per cent.
No other state has approved such a law through a popular vote, and the voters of Maryland did so 58/42 — an even greater margin than the one by which it passed through the state legislature.
Minnesota voters rejected an amendment that would require all voters to show photo ID at polling places. Photo ID became a big issue in this election after many Republican legislatures moved to make it necessary to vote. Many argued that this unfairly targeted elderly, minority and young voters — all key Democratic demographics.
Californians vote to raise taxes on the wealthy
Proposition 30, which temporarily raises taxes on those earning above $250,000 a year, passed with almost 54 per cent of the vote. And it did so with high-profile support, with Stephen Spielberg and music mogul David Geffen among its backers.
Granted, California is a reliable Democratic stronghold in presidential politics, but this result could signal the beginning of the end for the Republican ideal of "trickle-down economics" — giving tax cuts to the wealthy in the belief that that money will work its way through the economy to the poor — a cornerstone of conservative economics since Ronald Reagan.
Corporations are people, my friend. (Well, not in Montana…)
In Montana, voters overwhelmingly supported an amendment to that state’s constitution that clearly states that corporations are not people, and are not entitled to constitutional rights such as free speech.
This amendment essentially undoes the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that established that political spending by corporations cannot be restricted by the federal government — a ruling that attracts much of the blame for the obscene amounts of money spent by Super PACs and billionaires in support of their chosen candidates.
Puerto Rico — the 51st state?
Nearly 54 per cent of Puerto Rican voters voted in favour of statehood, which could ultimately see the tiny island become America’s 51st state. Currently the island is a territory of the US and is not represented in government, save for one non-voting observer of Congress, and statehood would see them accorded two senators as well as five Congressional representatives. It would also make the island eligible for an extra US$20 billion or so of federal funding.
No one really expects Puerto Rico to achieve statehood any time soon, even though President Obama declared he would make their case to Congress should a clear majority vote in favour of it. But even if this is just the beginning of the process, it’s still a significant moment in American history.
Where to now for the Republicans?
Whatever happens between now and 2016, the simple fact is that the Republican base is dramatically shrinking. They have to find some votes somewhere, and two of the demographics where their support is weakest are women and Latinos. Winning votes here will require a significant change in reproductive rights and immigration policy, but the party has been so intransigent on these issues that even a single reasonable policy proposal could go a long way to regaining support.
And there are prominent voices of moderation in the party — especially among the high-profile figures who didn’t run for their party’s presidential nomination this year. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are all advocates for a more constructive, less hysterical GOP — even Sean Hannity, one of the right’s highest profile ideologues, has "evolved" in his thoughts on illegal immigration. What remains to be seen is whether they can drag their party back to the centre, or be weighed down by the arch-conservative Tea Party that brooks no compromise, and who have unwittingly caused the Republican’s demographic marginalisation in their fervent quest for ideological purity.
But what these all of the above results show is a clear, measurable shift in the electorate in favour of classically left-wing causes — a clearer repudiation of conservative hysteria than even the re-election of the president.