Analysis: US 2012 race draws to a close

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

On Wednesday morning the United States and the rest of the world could either be waking up to another four years of Barack Obama, or the start of a very different Republican administration with Mitt Romney. Scott Roberts assesses President Obama’s first term as the US heads towards Election Day.

The US presidential election of 2012, which felt like it started in 2009, is finally drawing to a close. By the early hours of Wednesday morning, we should hopefully have a strong idea of whether Mitt Romney has usurped Barack Obama to become the 45th President of the United States. I don’t know about you, but I reckon this presidential campaign has been the most bonkers in living memory. Apart from Fred Karger, it seemed that the rest of the Republican primary field were completely unhinged on LGBT and other social issues; to the point of surrealism.

Republican candidates such as Michele Bachmann, who revelled in the fact that pushing the anti-gay agenda was part of her family business, failed to realise this is not a popular vote-winning strategy with the people who you really need to convince on Election Day. Polls continue to show increasing support for equal marriage. A CNN/ORC International survey taken in June reported that 54% of Americans support the legalisation of same-sex marriage while 42% remain opposed. Independent voters, who hold the balance of power in the crucial swing states, were shown to be in favour of equal marriage by 57%, according to a Gallup poll in May.

The Karl Rove doctrine, of mobilising evangelical Christian voters over God, Guns and Gays’ helped George W Bush win a second term in 2004, but eight years later America is a very different place both culturally and politically. Back then Glee was still a glint in Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy’s eyes; gay couples could not marry in New York, and soldiers were still being discharged from the US military because of their sexuality.

Today, gay rights are no longer a taboo subject in American politics. Vice President Joe Biden was on to something, when earlier this year, he remarked on how the TV sitcom Will & Grace “probably did more to educate the American public” on the subject than anything else. An October poll by Penn Schoen Berland for the Hollywood Reporter showed that primetime programmes featuring high-profile gay characters, such as Glee and Modern Family has helped to shift attitudes in favour of equality. 27% said shows with gay characters made them more supportive of same-sex marriage and only 6% more anti.

The Bush era saw US politics governed by fear, which stemmed from the trauma of September 11. Despite increasing doubts about the former president’s judgement, the fear about terrorism was enough to keep Dubya in the White House in 2004. In 2012, fears over Al-Qaeda have been replaced by disappointment about the economy. At the end of last week, President Obama encouraged America to put on its rose-tinted spectacles in order to view the last set of unemployment figures positively before Tuesday’s poll.

The US economy added 171,000 new jobs in October, which was much more than had been expected. However, the unemployment figure is still higher than when the president took office at a painful 7.9%. Barack Obama knows the golden goose of all successful first terms – a strong and confident US economy – has eluded him, which is why the race between him and Mitt Romney has remained so tight.

If over the past four years, the US economy had matched the progress made on LGBT rights, Barack Obama would be cruising towards a Reagan-style 1984 landslide. Making hate crime a federal offence, overturning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (the ban on openly gay soldiers), abandoning federal approval of the Defence of Marriage Act, extending hospital visitation and care rights to gay spouses, and appointing a record number of gay officials, have all been substantial achievements, even more so when you consider the rampantly partisan nature of the US Congress.

He was criticised for his long period of “evolving” over same-sex marriage, yet Barack Obama is the first US president to embrace the LGBT agenda, and his decision to make it a visible part of his re-election campaign has been a groundbreaking achievement for US politics. It has also crucially helped to electrify Democratic LGBT and young supporters, when it comes to getting the vote out.

Although the latest polls in some of the swing states show President Obama has a narrow lead, the experience of the 2004 election, of going to bed in the belief that John Kerry had won, only to wake up the next morning to find that he hadn’t – means we really should not rush to assume we know how it will all pan out. As Hurricane Sandy has proven, America is king when it comes to last minute surprises.