The election consumed years of effort, billions of dollars, thousands of hours of air time and gave us a government very like the one we had before it began. Barack Obama? Still president. Harry Reid? Still the Senate majority leader. John Boehner? Still the speaker of the House.
Nonetheless, the election did tell us a few things and brought about a few changes. To illustrate, I browse (in no particular order) the headlines that have appeared in major papers since Wednesday morning.
"Money Down the Drain — Spending a lot with little effect."
"Record spending by independent groups, which in many ways defined how campaigns were waged this year, had no discernable effect on the outcome of most races, according to an analysis by The Washington Post."
Independent expenditures by super PACs were less effective than those made by the candidates and parties themselves.
"Problems at polls weren't dramatically worse, experts say."
Supposed Republican plots to engage in "voter suppression" did not materialize.
"Mormonism not an issue with white evangelical voters — Most backed Romney, but they are a shrinking part of the electorate."
"Faith groups that traditionally support Republicans … evangelicals and observant white Catholics — went for Romney in even stronger numbers than they did for McCain in 2008."
However, turnout from those groups was down from the 2008 level and one observer says, "I think the fraction of evangelicals who wouldn't vote for [Romney] stayed home."
"A Worried GOP — Party coalition at a crossroads."
This one was about demographic trends. The Republican share of the Hispanic vote has fallen dramatically. In his first campaign, George W. Bush got 40 percent of it; this time, Romney got 27 percent. Since this is the fastest growing single segment of the electorate, the story suggests that Republican victories may be even harder in the future unless the party changes its stance on immigration. The headline on the inner page where it continued said: "GOP facing a more diverse electorate."
"Boehner, GOP leaders take new tone, pledging compromise."
"Although they retain a robust majority and control of the House, the GOP brand was mostly routed Tuesday when it traveled beyond the boundaries of gerrymandered districts meant to protect the party's vulnerable incumbents. As a result, Wednesday began the unveiling of a more conciliatory House GOP pledging compromise and cooperation … Gone was the harsh rhetoric of the 2011 fiscal showdowns, and in its place was a declared willingness to consider raising tax revenue as part of a larger debt deal."
Results for two of the tea party's biggest national stars support this story's claim of damage to the harder edge of the Republican brand. Rep. Michelle Bachmann barely survived and Rep. Allen West was defeated.
"Obama's signature law to survive, but it still faces challenges."
"President Obama's victory eliminated the last serious threat to the existence of his health care law, but it didn't remove an array of challenges that will ultimately determine whether the 2010 statute is a policy triumph or a disappointing muddle."17 comments on this story
The fight over the health care law will continue, and this story outlines many of these challenges.
Finally, two front page headlines, to sum things up:
"Obama's night — Tops Romney for 2nd term in bruising run; still faces challenge of a deeply divided country," and "Focus moves to 'Fiscal Cliff,' after Obama victory, political leaders strike conciliatory tone."
In short, the election's over, but the problems aren't.
Robert Bennett, former U.S. Senator from Utah, is a part-time teacher, researcher and lecturer at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.