Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

The debate frenzy distracts from the US political realities

Media focus on the performance of the US presidential candidates in last week's debate has drawn attention away from what's truly important: the candidates' policies.

Long before last week's presidential debate, the contours of the US election had already been set. Despite the silly reactions from pundits, on both the right and left, the debate added very little that will affect the outcome of the contest.

It was like watching the Yankees versus the Red Sox. Both sides cheered for their team. One side came away a bit more excited, the other a bit deflated, but no one changed sides.

Putting aside the exaggerated media reaction that "Romney triumphed" or "Obama blew it", the debate itself was quite boring. Mr Romney's performance might provide a shot in the arm to Republicans, many of whom have been troubled by their candidate and his lacklustre campaign. It may change the mood, but not the game.

More important than the debate are several factors that have defined the political landscape in 2012.

First and foremost is the demographics of the electorate. On the Democratic side, there is a dramatic increase in "minority" voters. Two decades ago, this group comprised less than 20 per cent of all voters. Today, they may be as high as 29 per cent. Estimates are that 80 per cent will vote for Mr Obama.

Add to this group young voters, educated professional women and left-leaning voters - not exactly the dependent "takers" of Mr Romney's imagined 47 per cent.

The core of the Republican coalition is increasingly white, middle aged and older, and male, with many overlapping "born again" Christians. It was from within this demographic that the Tea Party was born, and the effect they have had on this year's contest has been substantial.

After flexing their muscles in a Republican takeover of Congress in 2010, the Tea Party helped to shape the field of 2012 GOP presidential aspirants. More moderate Republicans were discouraged from entering the contest, and those who did run adopted more extreme positions. Mr Romney's statements during the debate would have seen him booed off stage during the Republican primary.

Another defining point in the 2012 election came from a Supreme Court decision. The Citizens United case opened the door for the obscene amounts of money - much of it unreported - that is allowing the so-called Super PAC to fill the airways with mostly negative ads.

Three additional events have played a significant role in defining the campaigns. Latinos had been frustrated by the failure of the Obama administration to make immigration reform a priority. The White House has argued that it lacked the support in Congress to pass legislation.

But this past summer, Mr Obama unilaterally acted to provide temporary relief to undocumented young people who had been brought into the United States illegally as children and were at risk of deportation. This reprieve, while initially criticised by Republicans, has energised the important Latino vote for Mr Obama. And as Republicans realised they were about to be swamped by this growing bloc, they muted their criticism.

The same can be said of Mr Obama's decision to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which discriminated against homosexuals serving in the US military, and his late recognition of equal marriage rights.

Gays comprise a substantial part of the liberal electorate, and equal rights has become a litmus test among young voters.

The final point was Mr Romney's now-infamous "47 per cent" video. For months Democrats had been working to define Mr Romney as an elitist who was out of touch with the working class. Mr Romney's off-the-cuff remarks to an audience of well-heeled donors has done just that.

The pundits' "group think" feeding frenzy will shape headlines for a day or two, but it will not alter the landscape. I doubt that in the long term whether the debates will substantially alter the size or composition of either candidate's support base.


James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute

On Twitter: @aaiusa

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Lionel Richie performed many of his hits from the 1970s and 1980s at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Jaime Puebla / The National

Lionel Richie dishes out the hits to Dubai crowd

At his Dubai concert on Thursday, Richie greeted the audience with “Yalla habibi” – a statement of intent as his energy rarely let up.

Tyrese reunited with Fazza

Tyrese today posted on his social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) his pleasure at being reunited with the Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

 Falconry is an activity where they demonstrate how falcons catch prey while flying at a speed of almost 360 kilometres per hour. Mona Al-Marzooqi / The National

In pictures: Adventure in the desert at Abu Dhabi's Qasr Al Sarab

Mohammad Ashfaq, an adventure guide at the Qasr Al Sarab resort, Abu Dhabi, showcases a day in his working life.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

Video: Local reactions to a national fishing ban

A federal fishing ban has been imposed by the UAE federal government, but local authorities are taking diiferent approaches to implementing the ban. Two fishermen tell two very different sides of the story. Produced by Paul O'Driscoll

 An Egyptian Orthodox Christian priest give communion during the Palm Sunday service inCairo, Egypt. Mohamed El-Shahed / AFP

Region in focus - April 18, 2014

The best images of the last seven days from around the Gulf and across the Middle East.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National