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Francisco J. Pérez-Latre, School of Communication, University of Navarra, Spain.

Notes on the most expensive campaign in history

Thu, 08 Nov 2012 11:09:18 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

U.S. elections are a privileged scenario for learning about communication and media. The 2012 elections were no exception. Without wishing to be exhaustive, here are some keys and milestones that can help to put this campaign into perspective.

The election was decided in a dozen "disputed" states (Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada). In the end, Obama won all of them except North Carolina, pending the recount in Florida. Democrats and Republicans have increased their ability to reach specific "target audiences" and ethnic minorities in an increasingly divided and demographically changing country.

The campaign has been characterized by a flood of advertising messages in the "battleground" states. It has been the most expensive campaign in history. As of October 30, candidates had already spent $406 million in Florida, Virginia and Ohio alone. The parties' fundraising machinery raised resources until the very end. According to the Washington Post, Romney raised 1,176 million dollars and Obama 1,076 million dollars. The scenario has been different from that of 2008, when Obama's economic advantage over McCain in the last month was considerable.

Barack Obama has achieved victory with a small lead, within the best scenarios that the latest polls showed. Voters have interpreted that the economic crisis does not justify a change of tenant in the White House. At stake was the bequest of a president who aroused great expectations. Obama, elected by a margin of more than nine million votes in 2008, has seen his popular support dwindle in a process that began very soon after his arrival at the White House. Beginning in 2009, the tea parties began to mobilize discontent with some of the President's policies. In the 2010 midterm elections, the Democrats suffered a severe defeat.

Re-election campaigns are different from election campaigns. But perhaps Obama's main problem has been Obama himself. The hope and vision for the future of 2008 has turned into the negative communication of 2012. Mitt Romney, for his part, was slow to present himself as a viable alternative, and the Republican "instructions" did not quite trust him, after a long primary that did not help to clear up any doubts.

When the candidates arrived in Denver for their first discussion (October 3), the Romney campaign seemed moribund. Romney's resounding victory contributed to the uncertain outcome we have experienced over the past month. Polls began to reflect a shift in public opinion. Democratic strategists tried to counter the defeat from discussion between vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, in an evenly matched discussion where Biden was aggressive and scathing. It was a prelude to the attacking attitude on Obama's part that characterized the next two debates, which ended with minimal victories for him in the polls.

In news cycles as long as election campaigns, imponderables arise, unforeseen events with consequences that are difficult to assess. The true influence of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast on October 29, will take time to establish with certainty. But there are already those who claim that it slowed down the trend in favor of the Republicans of previous days and allowed Obama to "act like a president" a few days before the elections.

Since the financial crisis of September 2008, we have been talking and thinking about the media crisis, Economics and politics. Many agree that it is a crisis of values that invites reflection. The 2012 U.S. campaign also reflects that crisis. Politics is a place for solidarity and the common good. But the campaigns focus on fear and spread simplistic and schematic messages that blur the nuances and, with them, the possibility of agreements and alliances that the crisis calls for. In the best of cases, the citizenry chooses the least bad option. Politics is orphaned of great examples and ideals. It should not be forgotten that what really communicates are brilliant ideas and policies that offer answers to problems.

Obama will now have to manage his narrow victory by working with a Republican-majority House of Representatives. The Republicans will reflect on their second consecutive presidential defeat amid the mutual recriminations that usually occur when they lose. Names such as framework Rubio, Jeb Bush or Paul Ryan are already being strongly mentioned. Obama will have four more years to develop his economic and social project . And we will return to Hillary Clinton, who is now leaving the administrative office of State.