By tomorrow morning we will almost certainly have heard that Barack Obama has secured a majority in the Electoral College and will begin a second term as president in January. Far less certain is whether Obama will secure a majority of the popular vote; five of nine national polls released today suggest either Romney winning or a statistical tie. One year after Occupy, such a split result might inspire a new, more negative, winter of discontent in the United States.
In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but Florida famously remained unclear, with the Supreme Court handing the election to George W Bush despite the high likelihood Gore had more votes. A small group of people camped out in front of the Supreme Court to try to influence the decision but no mass movement developed -- nor, indeed, did Gore call for one.
Contrast what happened around the world as the decade unfolded. When Viktor Yanukovich likely stole the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko helped build the "Orange Revolution" which filled the streets of Kiev with demonstrators and on the strength of that movement was able to claim victory. Similar "color revolutions" swept members of the old guard from power following corrupt elections in Georgia and Serbia, and a similar movement in Iran has kept that country on the boil following a stolen election in 2009. In each case, the new rulers have proved to be deeply cynical; in color revolutions, a faction of the established elite uses a mass movement to displace another faction but the underlying problems which inspired the mass movement go largely unresolved.
There was no mass movement around Florida 2000; but that was before the financial crisis, before Occupy and before the Tea Party.
I disagree with Obama on most of his policies but no rational person thinks he didn't win the 2008 election; 53% of the vote on a 61% turnout is about as elected as one can be in the US system. The major narrative on the American far right since 2008 however has been one of Obama's illegitimacy, not only the business about his birth certificate but also accusations surrounding ACORN and voter fraud and, over the past year, around supposed mass voter fraud in general. Atop all this, in the last days of the campaign many Republican commentators (see http://www.denverpost.com/politics-national/2012/11/seven-people-predicting-a-romney-win-on-election-day/ for eight examples) continue to insist, rejecting all evidence, that Romney will win both the electoral and popular votes.
Moreover, the far right has made use of outwardly insurrectionary rhetoric over the past four years, from Rick Perry's suggestion of Texas seceding to the Virginia Republican Party's call for "armed revolution" if Obama wins.
So if the average Tea Partier wakes up tomorrow and hears Obama has lost the popular vote but "somehow" won the election, how will he respond if he's already primed for a Romney victory? How will broader layers of the American populace respond, if they're already primed for paranoia about voter fraud?
The Republican elite do not want an insurrection; but they do want the Democrats to be immobilized and passive and they have shown willingness to use any means to achieve this. Clinton's administration started with a promise to provide everyone in the US with health care and ended with an impeachment trial over adultery. Beyond this, the basic diffidence of the Democrats has meant thirty years of growing complicity in every act of the US government to make America less equal, less free and more warlike. If the Republican leadership thinks they can pre-emptively shut down a second Obama administration with mass demonstrations over the election results, they will do that -- and rather than telling the Republicans "nuts", the Democratic leadership will, at best, wanly compromise.
This election is not 2008. Half the country (49% according to Rasmussen Reports today) are dissatisfied with Obama's performance as president and millions are voting for him as the lesser of two evils. Over Obama's first term, wages have continued to drop and poverty continued to grow. Much of Obama's unaccountability comes from the magic spell of his election, the Hope-Change-Yes We Can chant whose material component is the fact of him not being George W Bush. Tonight, especially if the media deem it should fall, that spell may be broken.
America therefore may enter another dark and uncertain four years. This will not be a consequence of the scant policy differences between Republicans and Democrats; rather it will stem from the fact of a politics of Republicans and Democrats, two tribes distinguished by color like the Byzantine charioteering teams before them, squabbling at a distant remove from the needs of ordinary people but with the power in hand to touch hundreds of millions of lives. The shrill and fevered rhetoric of the past four years can only escalate, and the wants of the many can only go less fulfilled, as the questions of the times to come hear their answers not in the shuffle of ballot papers but in the shambling trudge of hordes of angry goons.