Wednesday, November 7, 2012

US election: no gold at the end of the rainbow

by michael roberts

The US presidential election result was almost exactly as the best pollsters predicted  President Obama was reelected with just on half those who voted, with Romney about 2% behind.  Obama won the electoral college comfortably as his votes were concentrated in the big coastal urban states, east and west.  Romney did a bit better than McCain in 2008, taking a couple of states that Obama had won then.

But once again the real winner was the No Vote party.  We don’t have the final vote tally yet but it looks as though at least 40% of those of voting age did not vote, partly because they did not register, but mainly because they did not turn out on the day.  This is pretty much in line with previous elections, as you can see from the graph below – although a quick calculation suggests to me that the turnout is down from 2008.  The sharp decline between 1968 and 1972 in the graph was mainly due to the reduction in the voting age to 18, increasing the number of voters but not the percentage of young people who wanted to vote.

The recent rise in the percentage voting is really down to the change in the ethnic make up of the American electorate, with more voters of Hispanic and Asian origin, who it  seems are much more likely to vote.  And it was a ‘rainbow coalition’ that won the election for Obama.  According to the exit polls, the electorate was 72% white — a group that Obama lost with 39% of the white vote to Romney’s 59%.  But the 13% that is African-American gave the president 93% of their votes.  And Hispanic voters who comprised 10% of the electorate (rising up from 7.4% in 2008) gave Obama 71% to 27% for Romney (up from 67% in 2008).   Asians too voted heavily for Obama.  Romney represented the majority of Anglo-Saxon white males, as women voted 55% to 44.% in favour of Obama, while men voted 52% to 45% for Romney.  Interestingly, the ‘class vote’ was less clear.  Of those earning more than $50,000 a year, hardly a princely sum, Romney took 50% compared to Obama at 45%.

Obama’s victory came as the official unemployment rate hovers at 7.9%, slightly higher than when he took office in 2009.  Reagan was the only previous president to have been re- elected since World War II with a jobless rate above 6%.  In my previous post (Does it matter who wins?, 5 November 2012), I outlined the weak state that the US economy is in.  So the rainbow coalition that won Obama a second term is unlikely to get a crock of gold at the end of the next four years.  Already, Obama and the US Congress is now turning to dealing with the so-called fiscal cliff and government debt.  Boosting government investment to create jobs and restore living standards that have declined sharply for the average American household over the last 12 years is not in the agenda.  And neither is doing anything about the huge inequalities of wealth and income that blight US society.

A recent IMF report ( showed that the gini coefficient (a measure of inequality of income between the top and bottom income earners) in the US had jumped from 30.5% in 1980 to 38.6% in 2010, the largest rise in the whole world with the exception of one country, China, where it has risen from a relatively low 28% to a very high 42% during ‘the move towards the market’ in China over the last 30 years.  The most equal society in the advanced capitalist world is Norway (24%), which is also the richest.  All the Scandinavian ratios are relatively low while Germany and France are  in the middle (low 30%).  Only the UK at 33.5% is close to the US – the rise since 1980 in the UK has matched that of the US, making it the most unequal society in Western Europe!

Interestingly, there is one country that has become more equal over the last 20 years – Venezuela.  And all that improvement has been under the presidency of Chavez, with the gini coefficient falling from 45.4% in 2005 to 36.3% now.  Venezuela is now the fairest country in Latin America on this measure. Brazil maintains its status as the most unequal, while South Africa with a hugely rich tiny white minority has the infamous status of being the most unequal country in the world (63%).  It’s likely that another four years of Obama will not see the US lose its position as the most unequal society in the advanced capitalist world. 

The crock of gold is held by just a few.

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