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Election 2012: all-​​day analysis

A day after the nation went to the polls, we’re talking to North­eastern fac­ulty mem­bers about Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s elec­toral win over Repub­lican Mitt Romney, which came despite an extremely close pop­ular vote count. Check in throughout the day to see what experts from across the uni­ver­sity are saying about what the results mean for the nation and the world.

2:40 p.m.: Denise Horn, an assis­tant pro­fessor of inter­na­tional affairs, said Pres­i­dent Obama has been well-​​received around the world because his for­eign policy approach, spear­headed by Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clinton, has focused on fos­tering sup­port from allies rather than taking the kind inter­ven­tionist approach asso­ci­ated with George W. Bush’s pres­i­dency and which Mitt Romney had indi­cated he would likely sup­port as president.

Lead­er­ship works when you’re making sure people want to follow you. You don’t get that from being bel­ligerent or aggres­sive; you get that from showing a will­ing­ness and an open­ness to work with other people. Europe is going through really hard time right now and the last thing they need is the United States telling them what to do. They need part­ner­ship, not dic­ta­tor­ship, and if we’re going to suc­ceed going for­ward in places like Syria we’re going to need good col­lab­o­ra­tion with our allies and orga­ni­za­tions like NATO.

Much of Obama’s suc­cess, Horn said, can be tied to Hillary Clinton’s lead­er­ship run­ning the State Depart­ment, a post has indi­cated she may soon step down from after 4 years.

I think she is a superb diplomat. She’s very good at reaching across the table and building sup­port for Amer­ican ini­tia­tives. People at the State Depart­ment feel empow­ered by her and feel like they’re able to push the U.S. agenda in a very pos­i­tive way. Pres­i­dent Obama is viewed very pos­i­tively in the world and I think a lot of that has to do with the world of Hillary Clinton.

1 p.m.: Terry Fulmer, the dean of the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, said Obama’s elec­tion pro­vides some sta­bility when it comes to imple­menting the Afford­able Care Act, which Mitt Romney had pledged to repeal. For Bouvé, there is an ongoing increased push for training pri­mary care providers, who play a key role in Obama’s health care reforms.

We will really be thinking about how to accel­erate things like our physi­cian assis­tant and nurse prac­ti­tioner pro­grams, which ensure that more people can get the pri­mary care cov­erage they need. We have to think about the people who didn’t have insur­ance but now do and are able to work with their pri­mary care physi­cian to reach their goals. And it’s exciting that the Afford­able Care Act places a cen­tral role on com­mu­nity health clinics, which pro­vide more cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive care because people are get­ting care and atten­tion from people who are in their own community.

12:35 p.m.: Bill Crotty, the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life, said while Obama has proven him­self as an excel­lent cam­paigner, he has not been able to trans­late those skills over to governance.

He is a tremen­dous cam­paigner: He’s smart, he works very hard, he knows what to do. As a polit­ical leader, though, those qual­i­ties have yet to become evi­dent. In dealing with Con­gress and devel­oping an issues-​​based agenda, I’m just not seeing it. I think Pres­i­dent Obama spent the last your years preparing for this elec­tion and because of that has not laid out a very sig­nif­i­cant policy pro­gram. And now he is going back to a Wash­ington that is very much the same, with struc­tural prob­lems that will again pre­vent very little from get­ting done.

Crotty also noted that the gra­cious, bipar­tisan tone Romney struck during his con­ces­sion speech — rather dif­ferent from the one he took for most of the race — would have served him well in this year’s campaign.

Romney was clearly caught off guard by the result, but I was really impressed by his con­ces­sion speech and its focus on bipar­ti­san­ship. I think if he had stuck with that the whole time, there would be a good chance he’d have been elected president.

We he did was stop being a mod­erate Repub­lican and instead turned into a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the core Repub­lican base, which I think was very unfor­tu­nate for him. I think if Romney stayed a mod­erate throughout this elec­tion, he really could have won this. Now, I don’t see any Repub­lican like that on the horizon.

11:50 a.m.: Michael Dukakis, a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence and the former Mass­a­chu­setts gov­ernor who was the Demo­c­ratic nom­inee for pres­i­dent in 1988, said can­di­dates like Barack Obama and Mass­a­chu­setts Senator-​​elect Eliz­a­beth Warren were able to win in tight races thanks to the strength of coor­di­nated grass­roots operations.

Obama and Warren won for one reason: There was a ground game! Why more people don’t get this, I don’t know. It’s not rocket sci­ence, although some of the newer tech­nolo­gies cer­tainly make things easier and more effec­tive. It’s about blocking and tack­ling, it’s about making sure your precinct cap­tains and vol­un­teers are out there making con­tact with people on a per­sonal basis — and doing it more than once. If you want to win these days, this kind of oper­a­tion is the only way to beat big money. You’re not going to match guys like Karl Rove, who can spend mil­lions of dol­lars on TV ads, but you can beat them on the ground.

The nation’s demo­graphics are also shifting, putting the cur­rent Repub­lican Party at more and more of a dis­ad­van­tage each year, Dukakis said. “In 20 years, the whole country is going to look like Cal­i­fornia,” he said, describing the diverse West Coast state that has voted for Demo­c­ratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates since Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. “And Democ­rats need to take advan­tage of that, starting right now, if they want to take back the House in 2014.”

11:30 a.m.: Alan Schroeder, a pro­fessor of jour­nalism, said this morning that media cov­erage leading up to Obama’s re-​​election was largely split, with the more con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets pushing back on hard data from places like Nate Silver’s 538 blog that largely pre­dicted the election’s outcome.

There was a big split in the ide­o­log­ical media. There was a whole dif­ferent nar­ra­tive on Fox News and the right-​​wing blogs indi­cating that Romney would win and Obama would get creamed in this elec­tion. Obvi­ously that did not happen. All of these pre­dic­tions were being made in the face of the evi­dence, because the poll results were cer­tainly not saying that. That was cer­tainly strange: that you had such a dif­ferent reac­tion to the infor­ma­tion from the con­ser­v­a­tive media and just how wrong they were.

As the tech­nology gets better and as the ability to pre­dict gets more pre­cise, a lot of the polit­ical cov­erage will be data-​​driven as opposed to instinc­tual. That is a big change and I think Nate silver — who took a lot of crap over the last few weeks, mostly by people on the right who were unhappy with his model — has been vin­di­cated. That kind of emo­tional analysis is nowhere near as reli­able as the data analysis that people like Silver have put for­ward. I think it means that polit­ical reporting in par­tic­ular will have to become more about con­crete evi­dence and less about gut instincts.

Schroeder also pointed out that while Hur­ri­cane Sandy and its after­math did not appear to sway many voters, who as in 2008 cited the economy as their top con­cern, it did dis­rupt cam­paign narratives.

I think the hur­ri­cane added this odd sort of factor in the final days here because it really took the cam­paign off the table for about a week at a really crit­ical point. So that was dif­ferent — cer­tainly one of those unex­pected events that cam­paigns cannot pos­sibly pre­pare for. It made some dif­fer­ence, I think, because it had Obama on the news every night, being pres­i­den­tial, doing the job of pres­i­dent. That, I think, was a con­tributed to his success.

9:20 a.m.: Wendy Parmet, an asso­ciate dean in the School of Law and a leading expert on health, dis­ability and public health law, said the Obama’s re-​​election elim­i­nates much of the uncer­tainty sur­rounding the Afford­able Care Act.

We know now that the Afford­able Care Act will go for­ward; it will be imple­mented and that’s going to be hard to change. A lot of ques­tions, though, still remain. Crit­ical ques­tions remain on the table, one being the fiscal cliff and what if any­thing that will mean for Medicare and Med­icaid. There are some very big deci­sions now for the states, some very cru­cial deci­sions: They have a very short time now to decide if they’re going to set up their own insur­ance exchanges; many of them have so far been holding back. Prob­ably the most impor­tant part, though, is the Med­icaid expan­sion, which is very cru­cial to cov­ering a large number of the uninsured.

And Parmet said that Obama may be able to shift the bal­ance of the right-​​leaning Supreme Court over the course of his second term.

It’s very likely that the pres­i­dent will have one or two appoint­ments over the next four years. Depending on who those jus­tices are, he may be able to change the dynamics on the court. What is clear, I think, is that the court will not go fur­ther to the right. We have a very con­ser­v­a­tive Supreme Court right now and in most mat­ters there is a five member con­ser­v­a­tive majority — we’ve seen that in a lot of cases, most notably being Cit­i­zens United. This is a far more con­ser­v­a­tive court than we’ve had in a long time. If Romney had won it could have gone fur­ther to the right, or it would at least have cemented that.

8:45 a.m.: Jour­nalism assis­tant pro­fessor Dan Kennedy said last night’s rel­a­tively early call for Obama indi­cates that news net­works may finally have recov­ered from the hang­over that fol­lowed the 2000 elec­tion, when Florida was called first for Al Gore and then George W. Bush before the race was deemed “too close to call.”

In recent years it seems they wanted to wait until long after they actu­ally could make a call. In pre­vious years net­works seem to have been afraid of making calls while people were still waiting to vote in cer­tain states, which has just gone away and I think that’s great – it was a ter­rible approach. And this year they were making the calls much ear­lier, and they def­i­nitely didn’t get any­thing wrong.

I think this year the net­works were prob­ably just a lot more con­fi­dent with their num­bers and their mod­eling, so they were able to make these calls much ear­lier than in pre­vious years. And cer­tainly we wouldn’t be hearing the end of it if any of them were wrong, which clearly they weren’t.

8:25 a.m.: Polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor Robert Gilbert, who spoke to News@Northeastern editor Greg St. Martin last night, cau­tioned that Obama’s re-​​election will not mean things will get easier in Wash­ington, but noted the night was a big one for Democrats.

It was a good day for Democ­rats. Not only did they keep the pres­i­dency, they also kept the Senate. I really think the Repub­li­cans thought they’d win, and I thought Mitt Romney was telling the truth when he said he hadn’t pre­pared a con­ces­sion speech.

8:15 a.m.: Greg Goodale, a com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies asso­ciate pro­fessor whose work focuses largely on polit­ical rhetoric and public speaking, said poor optics and audio took away from a gra­cious Mitt Romney, whose con­ces­sion speech was more bipar­tisan than most of his cam­paign for the pres­i­dency. In his vic­tory speech, Goodale said, Barack Obama dis­played more energy and spirit than we have seen in years, some­thing he attrib­uted to the grass­roots nature of his campaign.

There has been a com­plaint from Democ­rats that he has lacked pas­sion, which we saw in his con­ven­tion speech, where he was dull, and in that first debate, where he just didn’t even seem engaged. I think a lot of people were wor­ried he had lost the pas­sion, the fire in his belly. I think, for the first time since maybe even 2007, we saw that man, who was able to reach across the aisle and work on some major issues.

Goodale also pointed out that young voters made up a larger share of the elec­torate than they did in any pre­vious year, including 2008. That’s a good sign for future polit­ical engagement:

That’s sig­nif­i­cant because it means a lot of people are going to be engaged and a lot of people are going to get involved, and I think that is going to become a mes­sage that is going to stick and inspire a next gen­er­a­tion. As a pro­fessor, that’s some­thing I look for in my stu­dents: I want to see them get involved and be engaged, no matter where they stand polit­i­cally. That’s some­thing Obama men­tioned when he spoke to voters who didn’t sup­port him this year. He didn’t care who you voted for, but  was glad you voted because that was good for America.

7:52 a.m.: Ques­tion 2, an ini­tia­tive that allows for ter­mi­nally ill patients to choose to end their lives, appears to be headed for defeat. Before the elec­tion, we asked Terry Fulmer, dean of the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences and a leading expert in the field of geri­atric care, to explain why the issue is becoming a promi­nent topic of debate across the United States:

All people grieve indi­vid­u­ally and there’s no set path for human grieving – it’s a very per­sonal and very indi­vidual process. We don’t have a lot of sci­ence, but we do have cases from states that have these laws and, in some cases, people say that it pro­vided a little more con­trol over the end of their life. Family com­mu­ni­ca­tion and talking about indi­vidual rights is impor­tant. There is incred­ible dis­tress that goes with losing a loved one.

We have a lot more research that we need to con­duct in this area. As a society we need to pre­pare for the aging of America. In 1900 life expectancy was about 40 years old, and now we’ve almost dou­bled it to 80 years old. That life expectancy brings with it chronic dis­eases and dis­or­ders, and family care issues that weren’t there earlier.

Mass­a­chu­setts voters did how­ever vote to approve Ques­tion 3, which legal­izes the use of med­i­c­inal mar­i­juana. Leo Beletsky, an asso­ciate pro­fessor with appoint­ments in Bouvé and the School of Law, said before the elec­tion that while sci­en­tific evi­dence of the drug’s med­ical ben­e­fits are lim­ited, public sup­port has grad­u­ally shifted in its favor.

Public opinion has grad­u­ally shifted to sup­port mar­i­juana lib­er­al­iza­tion in gen­eral and med­ical mar­i­juana in par­tic­ular: national public opinion fig­ures put sup­port for med­ical access upwards of 70%, while overall sup­port for legal­iza­tion recently gained majority sup­port. Polls of Mass­a­chu­setts voters reflect sim­ilar sen­ti­ments. With mar­i­juana access laws on the books in more than a third of US states, I believe we are moving towards a dif­ferent approach to reg­u­la­tion of this drug — one that better reflects its risks and ben­e­fits when com­pared to other socially-​​accepted sub­stances like alcohol, nico­tine, and pre­scrip­tion medications.

7:45 a.m.: Where did the cam­paigns get their cash? David Lazar, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of com­puter and infor­ma­tion sci­ence and polit­ical sci­ence, visu­al­ized con­tri­bu­tion data within the greater Boston area for Vis­Pol­i­tics, which applies net­work sci­ence to politics.

– by Matt Collette

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