U.S. voters may have returned the same leadership to Washington on Election Day but that doesn't mean they expect the status quo, observers say.
After returning President Obama to the White House and keeping Republican and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, respectively, can voters really expect things to change Washington? Or will it be more of the same gridlock that political leaders say they despise yet cannot find a way to resolve?
The answer would be yes because citizens deserve it, several observers say.
"The national government has not functioned well of late yet this election returned to power the same leaders in the House, Senate and presidency who have presided over little recent progress," said political commentator Steven Schier, a political science professor at Minnesota's Carleton College. "That makes the prospects for breakthrough reforms that solve pressing national problems murky at best."
"It was a status quo election when the country needs far more than status quo solutions," Schier said Wednesday.
But if movement on the economy and employment doesn't happen, voters will remember in the 2014 midterm elections, one observer said.
"People are focused on issues and solutions," Paul Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, which tracks movements of the 18-29 year olds voting bloc known as millennials.
"Yes, they will hold people accountable in 2014," Conway said, saying millennials want to see movement on economic issues, job creation, debt reduction and longterm spending issues.
"Status quo is not helpful to these folks," he said, and they will be watching elected officials in Washington regardless of political stripe.
Young voters, crucial to Obama in 2008, backed his re-election bid Tuesday, albeit by a smaller percentage, 60 percent, down 6 percentage points from four years ago. Romney captured 37 percent of the youth vote.
Rock the Vote President Heather Smith said voter participation by millennials put to rest the impression they were slackers or apathetic -- characteristics used to describe generation X.
"Yesterday, young Americans showed up, voted, and made it clear: They are the generation that will take our country forward," Smith said. "They increased their share of the electorate. More than 22 million cast a ballot, making this generation an essential and powerful voting bloc that can no longer be an afterthought to any political party or campaign."
Rock the Vote found that the turnout, "really about this generation caring and understanding the power they have and the obligation they have to opt in and lead our country," Smith said.
A snapshot of the electorate provided by The Washington Post found, among other things, it was less white, down from 74 percent in 2008 to 72 percent this year; more Latino, up from 9 percent four years ago to 10 percent; more female, up to 54 percent from 53 percent; and younger, up from 18 percent to 19 percent.
A pre-election poll found Latino and new citizen voters were putting their stamp on politics around the country. The America's Voice poll, conducted by impreMedia and Latino Decisions, indicates how the candidates' positions on immigration and other top issues were pivotal in determining the election results in Colorado and 11 other states.
Patty Kupfer, managing director of America's Voice, said in a release, the pre-election polls in Colorado "showed a near dead heat between Obama and Romney, but Obama ended up winning the state by more than 4 points. ... I can't help but assume that Latino voters, especially Spanish-dominant ones, continue to be undercounted in most polls, and these are voters that lean more Democratic."
"Women demonstrated that civil rights are for everyone, including same-sex couples, and that reproductive rights are hardly a diversion from the dominant issues of jobs and the deficit -- they are a central issue in our lives, part of our basic healthcare and an essential aspect of our economic well-being."
Tuesday's results send "a powerful and unmistakable message to members of Congress and state legislatures all around the country that the American people do not want politicians to meddle in our personal medical decisions, and that politicians demean and dismiss women at their own peril," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
The debate among the Republicans, meanwhile, will be on whether the party should keep chasing the anti-government focus that won them the House in 2010 or whether they should turn to a strategy that acknowledges a shift in demographics, The New York Times reported.
"There will be some kind of war," predicted Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican consultant who argues the party cannot keep conceding the votes of Hispanics, blacks, millennials and women because purists believe basic conservative principles will ultimately be victorious.
"We are in a situation where the Democrats are getting a massive amount of votes for free," Murphy said.
Ralph Reed, a conservative movement veteran, also argued Romney's loss would churn up criticism the party erred in nominating a more centrist Republican who had to work to engage the party base.
"There's definitely a feeling that it would be better to nominate a conservative of long-standing conviction," he said.
The Republican Party walked away from Election Day unable to defeat a president saddled with an unemployment rate north of 7 percent -- something that hasn't happened since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House. It also couldn't flip the Senate, despite having fewer seats to defend and sinking money into campaigns against several Democrats considered vulnerable.
"Republicans were decimated last night [Tuesday]," Craig Robinson, former political director of the Iowa Republican Party, told the McClatchy Newspapers. "You look at the presidential race and congressional map and you say, 'My God, this is horrible.' I tweeted last night that the biggest problem isn't President Obama. It's ourselves."
Some of the party's more conservative leaders called on their followers to stand firm and not compromise with Obama and Democrats, threatening to withhold support -- financial or otherwise -- from those who stray.
Robinson said that attitude won't connect the party with the people.
"This has to be more about how we appeal to the American people, not how we appeal to the party base," he said. "The agenda will have to help us reconnect with the American people."
Conway agreed, saying Republicans missed out on trying to appeal to millennials because the party reached out later, not sooner, in the campaign.
"I think folks tried their best," Conway said, adding that there appeared to be a lack of understanding about what this voting bloc was all about.
"You can't expect to turn a mass audience around," Conway said. "You're never going to get them in the last 90 days" of an election.
Also, "you need to go beyond your base," he said, noting that the GOP message wasn't a "base-plus message."
A study released by political spending watchdog Sunlight Foundation concluded Republican and former White House aide Karl Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads, had a lousy return-on-investment in Tuesday's elections -- roughly 1 percent on $103 million in ads. Offshoot Crossroads GOP did a little better, the foundation said, with 13 percent of its spending backing winning candidates.
Together, the Crossroads pair spent more than $170 million this election.
In fact, GOP-leaning outside groups were trounced in Tuesday's election, the organization said. Labor unions fared much better, with some directing at least 75 percent of their money to winning causes, the Sunlight Foundation said.
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