Obama has a mandate. Sort of.
November 7th, 2012
08:27 AM ET

Obama has a mandate. Sort of.

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is Director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. Additional details about public opinion on these and other issues can be found at Pewresearch.org.  The views expressed are his own.

Now that the election is over, the hard work begins. The U.S. economy is careening toward a so-called fiscal cliff that could dramatically shrink output in 2013. Confrontations loom with Iran over its nuclear weapons program and China over its trade practices.

Yet while the American people have chosen Barack Obama to navigate these shoals over the next four years, they remain deeply divided over what to do about these challenges. Obama has a mandate to govern, but his mandate on specific issues is far from clear. His biggest challenge may be to bridge the divides among the American people.

The economy was issue number one for voters on election day: 59 percent named the economy as their top concern, 15 percent said the government deficit, according to election day exit polls released by AP. The results echo a CNN exit poll that suggested 60 percent of voters see the economy as their top concern, with 38 percent saying that unemployment was their top economic worry.

Unless a comprehensive deficit reduction plan is agreed upon by January 1, 2013, dramatic cuts to U.S. defense and social welfare spending and significant tax hikes will kick in.

The non-partisan U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing such measures would shrink the American economy by 0.5 percent in 2013. Such a course would ripple through a global economy already hobbled by recession in Europe and a slowdown in China, India and Japan.

More from CNN: World worries as fiscal cliff looms

But doing nothing would mean that the U.S. government deficit would remain above $1 trillion for a fifth consecutive year, risking a spike in interest rates that could slow American growth anyway. And continuing to fund a rising U.S. debt would drain much-needed capital from other economies.

So Obama will be intensely involved in negotiations with Congressional leaders about the “fiscal cliff” even before he is sworn in January 20, 2013. In his victory speech after winning reelection, he acknowledged such: “in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together [such as] reducing our deficit.”

But he faces a serious conundrum. Republicans, who in the past have opposed any proposals to increase taxes as part of a package of measures to deal with the deficit, remain in control of the U.S. House of Representatives. And, while in the minority in the Senate, Republicans have sufficient votes to block legislation.

Moreover, the American public is divided.

They support a combination of budget cuts and tax increases, especially for the wealthy. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans approve of raising taxes on incomes of more than $250,000, according to an October 2012 Pew Research Center survey.

At the same time, 56 percent oppose reductions in military defense spending. And there is strong public resistance to major tinkering with government-funded entitlement programs – such as Social Security or Medicare– in order to reduce the deficit. Fully 51 percent of Americans say that maintaining such benefits as they are trumps deficit reduction.

Iran is the most portentous foreign policy challenge facing the next administration. Obama promised that Tehran would not acquire nuclear weapons on his watch, reflecting the sentiment of the American people. A majority of Americans (56 percent) want the new president to take a firm stand against Iran’s nuclear program, even at the cost of a military conflict, according to a Pew Research Center survey in October.

More from GPS: Why both got it wrong on Iran

But less than half of Democrats and young people agree, signaling potential division among Obama’s own constituency if there is a confrontation between Washington and Tehran.

Moreover, Americans’ support for the use of military force against Iran exceeds that in any other country, according to a spring 2012 Pew Global Attitudes survey, complicating the new president’s ability to build and hold together a united diplomatic front in any effort to deny Iran a nuclear arsenal.

Ongoing turmoil in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring suggests that dealing with terrorism will remain one of Obama’s priorities. The U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism enjoy overwhelming public backing (76 percent) in the United States. More specifically, drone strikes, which are likely to continue to be one of the principle methods of prosecuting this war, are widely supported. But while 62 percent of Americans back drone strikes, including 74 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats, people in most other nations take a sharply negative view, portending difficulties if the Obama administration continues to vigorously pursue such a policy.

If Iran is the next president’s most immediate security challenge, China is his long-term economic problem. In the campaign, Obama said he would be tougher with Beijing on economic issues. Now that he has been re-elected, such tough talk will be put to the test.

More from CNN: After Obama win, hope and relief in China

President Obama will have public support for a more confrontational approach. In an October 2012 survey, the Pew Research Center found that by 49 percent to 42 percent, Americans said that it was more important to be tough in dealing with China on economic issues than it was to build a strong relationship. And backing for this more hard-nosed approach had increased nine percentage points since March 2011.

But the public is divided along partisan lines in how best to deal with Beijing: while 65 percent of Republicans want the president to get tougher, only 39 percent of president Obama’s own Democrats agree.

American elections are consequential events, not just for the United States, but for the world. And the reelection of Barack Obama is likely to bring to a head a number of long-smoldering economic and strategic concerns that affect people everywhere, not just those who got to vote November 6.

Obama now has a mandate to govern. But his mandate domestically, and internationally, on specific issues is far from clear.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Economy • United States

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. loversandlosers

    Obama spoke to his biggest mistake at his 3.5 year mark, the error that, more than anything else, nearly cost him a second term: NOT EMBRACING CHANGE - he said "You can't change Washington from the inside", as though the revelation was new to him, even though his first election was won on the back of the slogan "Hope for Change". Once he won back in 2008, Obama did not leverage the new way of effecting change in America that he and his camp had 'invented': grass roots, living room 'town hall' community get-togethers organized via social media to spread the word about new initiatives like healthcare for all and education reform. Instead his big ego drove him to believe he could show Republicans how much of a compromiser he could be, reaching across the aisle and trying to be bipartisan, aiming for small, versus SIGNIFICANT, change. Problem was, the old, white rich politicians on both sides of the aisle kept seeing a very obvious (brown) voice of change in him and refused to agree with much of what he wanted to do, sensing that saying yes might actually lead to their ouster. Let's 'hope for change' in Obama's approach, let's hope that he embraces his new tools for politicking, reaching out to his voter base to effect REAL change. More on this thought here: http://justonecynicsopinion.blogspot.com/2011/11/obamas-biggest-boo-boo-not-adopting.html

    November 7, 2012 at 8:54 am | Reply
  2. 100 % ETHIO

    The verdict is cleared.
    President Obama won.

    1) President Obama's supporters =
    Very few wealthiest some middle classes more poor classes.

    2) Mr. Romney's supporters = more wealthiest few middle classes few poor classes.

    More than 87% of Jew-Americans, who are living in Middle-East, voted Republican Mitt Romney. Their motives are:
    America to fight for them against Iran, their yearly benefits (funds) from America to doubled from $5.7 Billion Dollars. Although, Jewish got nearly $1 Trillion Dollars funds per-year, from around the World, because of Holocaust and....

    Vacuumed U.S. Tax payers Money to foreign Aid (to Jews), added-up unemployment and Debit to America.

    And yet, more crimes, secretly, will happened against other U.S Citizens and Foreigners who will be seen in U.S., organized by Jewish groups, to make America look bad. The same thing already happened and will happened in Canada.

    Let Almighty GOD save US.

    November 7, 2012 at 9:56 am | Reply
  3. Muin

    I noticed that money is not enough for a politician to win election. If money were that big factor, linda mcmahon would have been the CO senator. However, 2 billion for a 600k job seems too much or hundreds of millions of dollars spent for senate, house job seems outrageous. I know no one is buying elections but money is a big waste. Anyway President deserves this one. He explained everything with patience, humility to american people. American people gave him another chance.

    November 7, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply
  4. Lyndsie Graham

    I see that Barack Obama now has another four year mandate to kill more people in the Middle East and Central Asia, but then again, Mitt Romney would have done the same thing. Unfortunately, most American voters couldn't care less! Let the bloodshed continue! How disgusting this is!!!

    November 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Reply
    • Nutzabouttennis

      I agree, and it's sad.

      November 7, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Reply
  5. Obama's Mandate

    Suck this 8======> Romney!!!!!

    November 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    Yes, Obama has a mandate to govern. I don't agree that "his mandate domestically, and internationally, on specific issues is far from clear". He has to shape his polices on certain issues to get a mandate at home and abroad.

    November 7, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      For some specific issues, like Iran, Obama might not get the mandate needed. He will have to rely on his skills and wits to achieve consensus.

      November 7, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  7. JAwaid Iqbal Butt

    Obama has got 2nd term just to rectify the past and ensure stability in the rest of world otherwise he will also be forgotton like previous regimes..

    November 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  8. JAwaid Iqbal Butt

    wishing all the best to Obama for better future planning and ensuring peace and stability in world.

    November 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  9. dewey2000

    You seriously must be joking! Obama has a HUGE mandate, and hardly needs to listen to Republicans at all!

    The coalition Obama forged is one the Republicans can't beat unless they change a lot, and while I would welcome that change, they'll fight it until it's too late.

    Obama holds all the cards! He needs to do NOTHING unless the republicans cave in and do what we want! If they don't, then attack them relentlessly in the midterms for doing nothing and get the house back!

    Directly attack and punish all of their supporters! Go after the banks, force the unearned rich to compete, and as best as youi can, starve the red states into submission!

    That's the only polotics these people understand, and that's what Obama needs to ram down their throats!

    Unfortunately, Obama won't play hard ball with these guys, but if he doesn't play tough and at least bluff, they'll never respect him!

    Sometimes you have to leave a couple of carcasses lying around so that people remember that you mean business.

    November 8, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Reply
    • W. Anthony

      The only thing liberals - especially those like you - understand is the same thing islamo-facists understand: a bullet in the head.

      November 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  10. Currency euro mandate

    these articles are very usable and gracefull thanks for contacting us.

    November 9, 2012 at 6:00 am | Reply
  11. concerned citizen

    The so called fiscal cliff is key. The ongoing monolithic opposition of Republicans to any Presidential initiative is the lock. If the President is successful in using the 'key' along with public opinion and the support of some Republicans in the House and Senate to unlock this opposition, then we may begin a process where progress can be made addressing our nation's priorities.

    November 10, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply
  12. Rhonda

    President Obama
    The American people gave him another chance,All he can do is his best for all the people,And for all the people walking with him just work with him.

    November 11, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Reply

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