On 24 October 2012, ISIS Europe attended the conference on « The U.S. Elections: Politics and Policy » organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in partnership with the European External Action Service (EEAS). The debate was moderated by Ian O. Lesser, Executive Director of the Transatlantic Centre at the GMF, and involved an exchange of views between Pierre Vimont, Executive Secretary General of the EEAS, William E. Kennard, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Marietje Schaake, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Robert Bennett, Director of the Bennett Consulting Group and former U.S. Senator.
The event took place two days after the third and final debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and two weeks before the general elections; in the heat of the campaign, Ambassador William E. Kennard glanced at the past months and drew a comparison between the 2008 and 2012 campaign based on three features.
Firstly, the use of technology played a pivotal role in favor of candidate Obama in 2008. The 2008 election which, for various reasons, has commonly been referred to as historic, has, indeed explored and exploited new communication tools in ways and to an extent inexperienced before. It has launched a trend which was further accelerated in the campaign for the upcoming general elections of 6 November 2012.
Secondly, Ambassador Kennard referred to the latest demographic census of 2010, which reveals that minorities and urban populations have become an increasingly important share in the U.S. demography. This demographic shift constitutes an asset for President Obama.
Thirdly, the super PACs, although a cause of new fundraising controversy, have allowed both candidates to raise huge amounts of money beyond the limits of the public financing of campaign. Together, the candidates have raised about $518 m.
The inward-looking character of the three debates was noted by the panelists. On that issue, MEP Schaake reminded the audience, that despite the international interest in the U.S. election and the primary role of the U.S. in the world, the election is primarily about American voters. Also, Ambassador Vimont expressed the feeling that a number of important current issues and crises on the international stage remain frozen, on the standby, until the outcome of the U.S. presidential election is clear.
Robert Kennett, former senator of Utah, analysed the campaign from a technical point of view. He agreed with Ambassador Kennard’s remarks and provided some further clarifications. In his opinion, technology is not going to be the game-changer it was in 2008, for the simple reason that it has become an integral part of the campaign strategy of both candidates, and has even been overexploited.
Regarding demographics, he argued that minority voters make a difference depending on their enthusiasm for the election. Minority voters’ turnout is generally lower than white voters’, and polls predict that President Obama will not benefit again from the 4 point increase in minority voters’ turnout in the present election. Moreover, Mr. Bennett considered the role of early voters as extremely important. He believes that votes cast before the first debate are more likely to be for Obama than for Romney.
Finally, Mr. Bennett focused on the first debate which created a momentum for Mitt Romney. If polls indicate that President Obama has 48% of vote intent and Romney 45%, 7% of the voters are undecided. In his opinion, Romney is likely to catch most undecided voters after the conclusion of the first debate, which depicted him as a legitimate challenger of President Obama, a “presidential material”, who has been wrongly caricatured by the Obama campaign.
How will the presidential outcome impact on Europe? The panel agreed on the fact that the election will not have a significant impact on U.S. foreign policy. Although there was an appalling lack of interest in Europe in the presidential campaign, pragmatism will lead the U.S. to remain the EU’s primary partner in the world, regardless of the result of the elections. Ambassador Vimont underlined the fact that if European defence has been an issue between the EU and the U.S. in the past, it is not perceived as worrisome anymore. In his opinion, the only thing the U.S. is worried about is the EU’s current financial crisis and its potential repercussions on the other side of the Atlantic. M. Bennett argued that there was consistency in U.S. foreign policy, regardless of the political tendency of the President.
For the moment, the question of who can bring the U.S. economy back on track will be decisive and will remain the number one issue for the future U.S. President. The elected candidate will have to see foreign policy through the prism of the economy.