Updated on 24 October 2012 – see below
I love to follow politics. In countries around the world it tells us so many different things about the health of a country, the culture of that country and the future of that country too, of course. It’s a fascinating time to be watching politics, as the dominant theory of the last two decades has spectacularly collapsed. In 1989, as communism imploded it became almost common cause that democracy backed by free market capitalism was the ultimate expression of how countries should be governed – America held herself up as the shining example for all to see.
So much for that. American politics has never seemed more broken than it is now, and American politicians have never enjoyed such low approval ratings as they do now.
So, it is with great interest that I watch the upcoming US Presidential elections, now just about 50 days away. And as a futurist, it’s part of what I do for a living to make comment based on trends and predictions. I am not a pundit, nor a pollster. My predictions are based on a model my team and I have developed over the past few years called TIDES, which identifies five major disruptive forces at work in the world right now. And for the past few years, we’ve been pretty good at tracking global trends, including political changes. We predicted the Coalition government currently in charge in the UK, with Nick Clegg as deputy Prime Minister (see here for our prediction). We also predicted that the younger presidential candidate in the US in 2008 would win (see here and here). We’ve done similar work for our clients, ranging from Australia to Iran, and Germany to Zimbabwe.
In the USA, Presidential elections are often won by the slenderest of margins. There are two key reasons for this: (1) the electoral college system, and (2) the fact that close on 80% of the voters will vote for the historical party regardless of the merits of each of the candidates. For these reasons, election campaigns tend to focus on key “swing states” and key demographics called “swing voters”.
Bill Clinton’s team, for example, famously identified the “soccer mom” as a demographic. The prevailing wisdom in the 1990s was that the male head of the home decided on who the household would vote for, and that the women and children in the home just followed the senior male’s lead. Clinton’s team identified that actually an increasing number of women were either not voting the same way as their husbands or were actually the ones making the voting decisions in their homes.
Obama did a superb job of becoming the first “social media candidate” by cleverly tapping into online communities to fund raise and activate the youth vote in the last election.
In both cases, it was a small group of people who were previously undecided who swung the election. It’s these voters that Presidential hopefuls have to court.
So, it seems remarkably strange that Mitt Romney’s campaign has remained rooted in the right wing of Republican dogma. Having secured a hard fought primary campaign, Romney needed to stick to the conservative agenda until at least the Republican Convention to secure the nomination. But then, his only hope of winning was to veer dramatically to the middle ground and fight for the undecided swing votes. He has consistently failed to do so. From his choice of running mate to recent comments on foreign policy, he continues to pander to the right wing of his base. Even though he is a Mormon with a fairly liberal record while in office, almost all of the Republican base will support him, if for no other reason than that they really, really, really don’t like Obama.
It is a mystery beyond understanding why Romney persists on the right wing of US politics. Business Insider shares my disbelief and phrased it like this: ‘When Is Romney Going To Fire His Campaign Manager And Shake Up His Team?’ I am not American, but if I was, I would be one of those swing voters. I lean heavily to the left, so sympathise with the Democrat position. But nevertheless, with the disappointment of Obama’s foreign policy and warmongering, I’d be tempted by a centrist Republican. Especially one that would use business experience to sort out the finances in Washington.
But Romney’s positions are increasingly baffling. See this analysis by Common Dreams for some examples. My take on this is that for some reason he is trapped in the right wing of the Republican base. It is probably some of the key funders who pull the Republican strings (the Democrats have these too). They do appear to me to be out of touch with mainstream America, and Romney is not strong enough to stand up against them and run the campaign he needs to in order to win the Presidency.
So, here’s my prediction. Not only will Romney lose, but he will lose by far. That probably means a 4 to 6% win margin in reality for Obama.
I’m not alone in making this prediction. The Economist’s latest poll suggests that while national polls indicate a slight lead for Obama, the incumbent is actually holding a huge lead in the electoral college because he is carrying almost all of the crucial swing states. See their map here.
There are 50 days to go, and a lot can happen between now and then. But, on current form, Romney is losing this election and Obama is not having to do much to win it.
I was going to write something clever about how demographics would shape this election. I have a thought that it might be the last one dominated by the Baby Boomers. But I actually think it’s being lost on policy issues – Romney’s bad policies!
24 October 2012 UPDATE
The three presidential debates are now over, and there’s just over a week to go before America decides on its next President. The polls are proving once again that they are useless in this new digital age. If you’d like Romney to win, you’ll find some polls suggesting he’ll walk it. If Obama’s your man, you’ll find polls putting well out in front. And most of the other polls so “too close to call”. A waste of time, then, really.
But Romney finally did what he needed to do: he shifted to the middle. This took Obama by surprise in their first debate. Add to that the fact that Obama had a rotten evening generally – he looked like he was sleep walking, and he opened the door to let Romney back in. But in the two final debates, he came out fighting again. In the third debate, he was able to highlight Romney’s flip flops.
But the question is: do I stand by my original “landslide for Obama” prediction now that Romney has done precisely what I suggested he do? It’s a tough call, and the election will be closer than it could have been if Romney had failed to move.
But I still call it for Obama, and I still think that it in terms of electoral college votes, it will be a clear and decisive Obama victory.