The Australian

By Bates Gill

In twice electing Barack Obama, Americans went from "hope and change" to "hoping for change" — or perhaps just "hoping".

Nevertheless, some of the immediate outcomes from this election cycle reveal significant changes under way in America and even hold out some hope for much-needed change ahead.

One big and ongoing change that has clearly emerged concerns the shifting electoral demography of America as the voices of non-white Americans have an increasingly decisive impact on national politics.

This change clearly favoured the President this time around. According to NBC News, on the one hand Obama did poorly among white Americans, who accounted for about 72 per cent of voters. But among black, Latino and Asian Americans, who represented 26 per cent of voters, Obama enjoyed a stunning level of support at 93, 71 and 73 per cent respectively from those groups. Obama's strong showing in conservative-leaning Florida, as well as in inland-west states such as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, can be attributed in part to the change in demographics, which brings larger numbers of non-white voters to the polls.

Republican Party strategies to tap into this dynamic and overcome what is now for them a growing demographic deficit will likewise need to change as well.

All Americans should take pride in another set of changes revealed by this election: greater tolerance and openness to diversity.

Not only has America now twice elected a black man for the highest office in the land, but for the first time one of the country's major parties nominated and nearly succeeded in electing a candidate who professes a non-mainstream religion. These aspects of the candidates' background mattered far less than most analysts thought, with the election choice in the end largely turning on ideas, character and trust. Failed aspirants for office — such as Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, both running for the Senate — learned that, even in conservative states, intolerant positions on issues of particular importance to women (such as access to abortion and other reproductive health services) were not in step with the broad electorate.

Less well covered, but also a part of changes under way in America, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved same-sex marriage, while Minnesotans rejected a referendum to ban such unions.

Looking ahead, is there a reason to be hopeful for other changes? There are many good reasons to cast a jaundiced eye on the divided American political system and its inability to make tough choices on critical domestic challenges. But with the election over and the incumbent chosen, some greater certainty should settle in. Economic and political marketplaces should be clearer now about the general direction on matters of deficit reduction, financial regulation, tax reform and budgetary priorities.

There will certainly still be disagreement over these matters, but the new year is not likely to see sweeping policy reversals or other creative chaos that often comes with first-term administrations. This greater certainty — if combined with more confident leadership from a president who does not face re-election, and a greater willingness to compromise by congress members who do — heightens the chances for bipartisan solutions. That is even more likely if the US economy continues to show improvement and, as some analysts predict, actually moves into a strong recovery. All of this is plausible, but expectations will need to be tempered.

Other prospective changes may be more likely. For example, the election result also means the continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). There will remain deep divisions over what Obamacare means for obligations of citizens and their government and the relationship between the two. But in its aim to extend healthcare to all Americans and bring its costs under control, this reform marks an enormous change.

In another area, Obama's re-election will affect changes on the US Supreme Court. The nine judges on the court — who hold their positions for life or until they choose to retire — are led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr, appointed by president George W. Bush, who oversees a conservative-leaning five-four majority. In the next four years, if and as certain vacancies open on the court, Obama's appointments could shift the balance in a more liberal direction to affect American life on a host of social and economic issues for decades.

So, at one level it seems not much has changed: same president, same divided congress, same looming challenges ahead. But digging a little deeper we see that important changes are reflected in this recent campaign and election results. And, with four more years under the incumbent president, more changes are likely to come.

Americans will continue to differ fiercely and positive bipartisan change will be difficult. But with the election behind them, they have a chance to work together to bring about much-needed changes to put the country on a stronger and more unified footing, especially at home. Hopefully so.

This article was originally published by The Australian