COMMENTARY: Not Just an Election—A Realignment

By winning re-election by a considerable margin, President Obama and his policies have become solidified in the nation's social compact.

Going into last night, a media consensus of a close election that would likely favor the president was apparent. However, very few predicted that the incumbent’s victory would be so decisive, and fewer still that it would be decisive enough to breach 300 Electoral College votes—lending legitimacy to the often ambiguous term “mandate.”

However, Nate Silver of the New York Times appears to have been the one person who saw it coming—having given the president a 90.9 percent chance of re-election on the evening of Nov. 5, while also forecasting an Electoral College win of 313-225. In fact, if the state of Florida ultimately falls into the Democrats’ column, the margin of victory will be even greater—at 332-206.

Needless to say, the gravity of President Obama’s upset over GOP challenger Mitt Romney is such that it might take a while for both sides to become fully oriented. Yet one thing is already clear—the United States of America has changed, and dramatically so. The old adage that we are a “center-right” country is no longer very tenable. Indeed, with the president’s victory last night, the opposite may now be the case.

The fact that President Obama was able to push through some of the most progressive pieces of legislation the nation has seen in three-quarters of a century—and be re-elected—lends ultimate legitimacy to those programs, and a stamp of approval by the people. The highly controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (i.e. “Obamacare”) is now a firmly rooted component of the social contract, validated by the Supreme Court and now the electorate.

Of course, looking at the country’s history, realignments are just an inevitable feature of our politics. They tend to follow a pattern of one every 30 to 40 years, with the last one being the Reagan Revolution of 1980. In that election, Republican Ronald Reagan trounced incumbent President Jimmy Carter, and with him, the so-called “big government” policies of the last few decades.

After President Obama’s sweeping victory in 2008, many liberal politicos were assuming that an alignment away from “Reaganomics” and supply-side policies had already taken place. Yet the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP’s sweeping of the 2010 mid-term elections quickly put cold water on that notion, and many were beginning to wonder just what comprised the modern-day electorate. Last night was the answer to that question.

The American electorate today comprises fewer and fewer white voters, and an ever-increasing minority component. Young people make up more of the voting population than ever before—even in 2008—which has come as a shock to conservative pundits who assumed enthusiasm in this group would be far lower than it was four years ago.

Also, women voters now outnumber men, giving Democrats an edge they hope to hold in future elections. And an NBC News exit poll released early last night reveals that almost half of Americans now support the president’s healthcare reform package, a strong and telling improvement since the overhaul was signed into law back in 2010.

In time, history will tell the ultimate effects of last night’s election on the future, but the data we have now makes one thing clear—there is a new, more progressive generation of voters that will be crucial to both sides in coming election cycles. As Alan Silverleib at CNN.com puts it: “[The] Republican Party is now facing a growing demographic problem. It risks permanently losing a new generation of Americans—a generation central to Obama’s twin White House victories.”

In the meantime, one can only hope for a break in the partisanship that has come to define the last two to four years, with issues such as the “fiscal cliff” and national debt becoming of enormous concern to many Americans. A “grand bargain” between President Obama and congressional Republicans on tax hikes and spending cuts seem all-the-more likely—though far from certain—after last night’s results.

Expect a full analysis from industry insiders on the election’s effect on multifamily in the coming days.

Image courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor