Having perspective about how people live in other countries is not something Americans are typically given credit for. In fact, they are known throughout the world for looking inwards, caring much more about domestic issues than international ones. This is true for most countries in the world, but American politics affects the entire world. The American economy drives the western world, their foreign policy defines who are our allies and who are our adversaries. It seems unfair that a decision of global importance, such who should lead America, can be decided by trivialities of domestic politics. In 2000 a few voters in Florida decided the trajectory of global politics. Had they voted a differently, the war in Iraq could have been averted.
If every person who was affected by the outcome of the American Presidential election was able to vote in it, the outcome could be very different. This is true of a number of countries. In China, even the country’s own citizens cannot decide their leadership and the decision is made in secret by a few people. Both leaderships have an enormous effect on the entire human race; the American decision is much more democratic, but both are made without considering the effect the outcome has on those outside the country.
As with most general elections, the recent US Presidential contest has been mainly fought over the incumbent’s economic record. Other issues were prevalent – foreign policy, social issues – but, as with most general elections, it comes down to the matter of which side the voters trust to handle the economy. After the credit crunch and the global recession, which began under George W. Bush, the American economy has stalled. Recovery has been slow and growth is lacklustre. Even after Obama was elected President in 2008, prosperity has not returned to America.
In the years since the credit crunch, America has not fared the best or the worst among OECD countries. When Obama took office in 2009, GDP was shrinking at 3.5% per annum. By the time of the election, growth had risen to 1.7% (all statistics are from Google’s public data). During the same period, unemployment has remained roughly constant at 7.8% (despite peaking at 10% in October 2009). Compare this to the UK, where growth is currently at 0.65% and unemployment at 7.9%. The same story of barely positive growth is true across most western economies. America is actually faring better than most but the prosperity of the late 1990s and early 2000s has not returned.
The question posed to American voters was whether they would be better off with Mitt Romney and the Republicans in charge. A growth rate of 1.7% leaves room for improvement, but it is certainly better than we are experiencing in the UK and better than a recession.
On Tuesday, American voters opted to stay with Obama and voted in favour of current economic policy. It was felt that the stimulus introduced by Obama in February 2009 had been effective, and that the bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors had prevented mass unemployment, which could have driven the country back into a recession. This vote in favour of the current administration’s economic policy is a reflection that Americans are aware that they are financially better off with Obama and better off than comparable countries.
Left learning social-democratic parties are generally out of power across Europe. Centre-right governments dominate and the fiscal agenda is austerity. In the UK, severe cuts to government spending have been enforced since the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition came to power in 2010. These cuts have killed off the green shoots of recovery and briefly pushed the UK economy back into recession. Looking at the British economy’s recent performance it is hardly a ringing endorsement of austerity and privatization. Americans recognise they are better off with Obama’s stimulus and steps to prevent mass unemployment than they would be with European-style austerity.
Usually Americans do not have a good deal of perspective, especially about how fortunate they are compared to other countries. However, in the case of the recent elections, it is clear that although Obama’s record on the economy is not stunning, Americans consider that they are better off with him than with the alternative. If anything, this week’s election result is a victory for perspective.