POLITICS

Punditry prowess: Canada's diplomats proved prophetic in 2012 U.S. election

02/14/2015 07:00 EST | Updated 04/16/2015 05:59 EDT
WASHINGTON - There was considerable scrutiny of political pundits following the 2012 U.S. presidential election — some ridiculed for their wildly inaccurate predictions, others celebrated for getting it right.

Among those deserving plaudits? The Canadian government, as it turns out.

Through the Access to Information Act, The Canadian Press recently obtained briefing materials prepared by diplomats at the U.S. embassy in the days before President Barack Obama was re-elected. Here's what they said:

— Obama appeared to be leading in all the right places. While polls showed a tie, the incumbent was actually ahead in key states, especially Ohio. Obama also had a superior ground game, with more field offices and staff in key states.

"National polls show the presidential race a dead heat," said the memo produced by four diplomats, approved by ambassador Gary Doer, and distributed within the government six days before the election. "But President Obama holds a lead in the Electoral College."

The eventual result: Obama nearly swept the swing states — winning Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado and Virginia. He won the electoral college 332-206.

— Democrats would likely hold the Senate, but narrowly. Result: They maintained a three-seat majority, which they finally lost in 2014.

— Republicans would easily hold onto the House of Representatives, but would probably lose five to 10 seats. Result: Republicans easily held the House in 2012, but lost eight seats.

— Canada wasn't a campaign issue. It wasn't mentioned once, for instance, in Mitt Romney's 43-page foreign policy paper. Even when the Keystone XL pipeline came up, it was a domestic debate over energy policy.

"This is not surprising given Canada is not a source of trouble in the world, nor are we seen as an entirely foreign country," the Nov. 1 memo said of the Canada-free campaign.

— In fact, the election barely touched foreign policy at all. When it did, the differences between Obama and Romney were more superficial than substantive.

"The distinction between the two candidates on foreign policy matters has largely been one of rhetoric and tone; on substance, there has not been a lot of discernible difference," said a memo five days before the vote.

"Large swaths of the globe — the Americas, Asia (beyond China), Africa, Europe and Canada — have been largely ignored. Even in the Oct. 22 debate, which was a foreign policy debate, both candidates were quite content to shift discussion to domestic issues."

— John Kerry was a top contender to become secretary of state if Obama won. Result: Kerry became secretary of state.

— The chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee would become available with Kerry's departure. But the No. 2 committee member, Barbara Boxer, might take a pass in order to remain chair of the environment committee. So the chairmanship would probably go to a first-term senator, Robert Menendez. Bob Corker would probably became its top-ranking Republican. Result: Correct on all fronts.

—On the eve of the election, bureaucrats were preparing post-election talking points for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and a presentation for departments in Ottawa. Doer asked them to prepare notes for a third possible outcome — deadlock. "(Ambassador) asked for one in the event of a tie-recount scenario... He mentioned Florida and Ohio in this regard."

—Canadian diplomats forecast an ultimate election outcome: political stagnation.

On Oct. 31, memo authors said a divided Congress would make governing a challenge no matter who won the White House. The sentiment was echoed in another memo, the day after the vote.

"Political gridlock... still?" said the note, dated Nov. 7, 2012. "The biggest challenge for President Obama will be at home, and finding a way to get out of the political gridlock."

Result: the 2013-14 U.S. Congress wound up becoming the second-least productive in recorded history.