Everybody has an opinion about the cause of Obama's victory and Romney's defeat. Among the many explanations is that Romney, the erstwhile liberal, made a big mistake ignoring the moderate views of the swing vote, instead embracing far-right rhetoric. Furthermore, he became associated with the lunatic fringe of Todd Akin and others, and that cost him the votes of moderate women. Romney's view on immigration satisfied the small Republican base, but it alienated Hispanics, a rapidly growing segment of the electorate. And there are those who say simply that Obama was just a more attractive candidate, and people, even his supporters, had trouble warming to Romney.
There are others, of course, that are generally the result of positive perceptions of Obama, such as his commitment to withdraw from Afghanistan and his ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. And, while the economy is still a horrible mess, he gets credit for preventing a full-scale economic depression. But there is one thing, not often said, that is nonetheless compelling: voters see a large number of threats that need to be addressed and have no appetite for starting all over again with somebody new.
While we were transfixed by the unsavory spectacle of otherwise civilized and mature people begging for money and votes and generally acting like sideshow barkers and evangelical preachers, the rest of the world was coming apart. The storm Sandy caused many deaths and perhaps as much as $100 Billion in damage and lost productivity. Thousands of Americans are now without electricity or heat in cold, wet weather, and many others are homeless and destitute. The fragility and interdependence of our infrastructure couldn't be more clearly evident. There was some observation that the inability of government to cope would weigh heavily on Obama's chances for re-election, but the opposite has proved to be the case: when things are marginally unpleasant they want change, but when things are really rotten they coalesce and rally.
Overseas, things are also awful. The European monetary system is on the road to dissolution. It didn't make any sense in the first place---you can't have one currency without one government---and when it collapses, the United States will suffer badly from the shock, too. Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons. China is expansionist and now bellicose about control of disputed territory. Americans are fighting insurgencies in sub-Saharan Africa. Pakistan is a great danger. Post-revolutionary Arab nations are unstable. The civil war in Syria threatens to engulf its neighbors, spawn a Kurdish national revolution and plunge the region into war.
Presidents are usually pretty quick studies, and Romney would have hit the ground running and reached operational speed without much delay. But in the voters' minds, that's not quite the same thing as already being in the middle of things. Despite his many mistakes and failures, Barack Obama's incumbency was perceived as an advantage in dealing with difficulties.
The conventional wisdom is that a new executive gets about one hundred days of slack before his people get antsy for action. Yesterday's election demonstrates that voters don't think they have the time to wait.