What Happened and Why: HKS Faculty Dissect the 2012 Presidential Race

November 7, 2012
By Doug Gavel

The voters turned out in near record numbers for Tuesday's national elections, and it appears many Americans were driven at least in part by pocketbook issues. David Gergen, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership and former White House advisor, argues that the improving economy, although still recovering following the great recession, actually benefitted the president.
"His auto bailout may have won Ohio and helped win key votes in the upper Midwest," he told Reuters. "Consumer confidence is also on the rise, inspired in part by cheery White House whisperings that success is just around the corner. Voters may have a rude disappointment, but they bought in during this election season."
Gergen says the Republican Party will now have to pivot to the political center in order to regain lost ground. "The lesson has to be clear to Republicans that they have to adjust [because] they've gotten too far out," he tells CNN.
Elaine Kamarck, lecturer in public policy who served in the Clinton White House, agrees with Gergen, writing on the WBUR.org blog that "when voters gave the president four more years, questions about the 2008 election were answered once and for all. It wasn’t a fluke. In fact, it’s ushered in a new American era. It is now probable that 2008 marked the beginning of what political scientists call a realignment."
Looking ahead, Kamarck argues in an article on CNN.com that Obama faces five significant challenges in his second term: dealing with upheaval in the Arab world; forging a compromise on the federal budget; learning how to negotiate better with Republicans; cutting a deal on tax reform; and pushing the ball on climate change.
"There's a presidential inbox waiting and it's not too hard to figure out what's in it," Kamarck writes. "Problems don't have Democrat or Republican stamped on them: they just are."
How the next four years evolve in Washington is anyone's guess, and the president's legacy is yet to be written. As Richard Parker, lecturer in public policy, tells the Harvard Crimson, "It's up for grabs."

David Gergen, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership and former White House advisor

David Gergen, public service professor of public leadership and former White House advisor

"The lesson has to be clear to Republicans that they have to adjust [because] they've gotten too far out," said Gergen.

Elaine Kamarck, lecturer in public policy

Elaine Kamarck, lecturer in public policy


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