On Tuesday, November 6, half the nation watched in excitement while the other half watched in shock as the Presidential election was not only won by Barack Obama, but his electoral college victory was exactly what the so-called "ideologue" Nate Silver had used statistical models to predict it would be (Florida has not completely finished counting votes, but it is still leaning toward Obama now). Although it can be easy to get swept up in the emotion right after such an event, regardless of whether that emotion is enthusiasm or frustration, the simple fact is that the White House and Congress will need to come to a 'fiscal cliff' compromise very soon.
For all the money and all the talk from both sides trying to justify how they will receive a mandate, whether it's Governor Norquist's article on the Huffington Post or the parade of Democrats on NBC's coverage, there are only three real ways this election can be explained, and none of them involve a convincing mandate for anyone.
The first possibility is that on a federal level people aren't happy about the direct the Republican party is going, while simultaneously being very uncomfortable with a country that gives more than just a slight edge to the Democrats. It seems as though there has been a decision to stop the march the Republicans seemed to be making toward more power on a federal level, but at the same time there is no decisive winner like in 2008. Democrats feel like they have won by not losing, but that is a lot different from a mandate.
The second possibility is that the nation desperately wants to shift one way or the other, but it is so divided at the moment that the prospects for chance for both sides have been dashed. As Grover Norquist discussed on the Huffington Post, the conservative gains on the state level in red states seems to favor this possibility. Many states have given Republicans the complete control of their state governments. This may not be completely balanced out by a stronger liberal leaning on the East and West coasts, but it is unlikely to be enough to give Republican's what they want on the federal level.
The third possibility is a pure demographic shift. As secular young people, Hispanics, blacks and women become stronger voting blocs, the republican party may need to shift away from the tea partiers and extreme social conservatives in order to shift the public perception about what they stand for. Some Republicans might be tempted to point the finger back at those voting groups and criticize them for being made to drink to the kool-aid, but if demographics are the reason the President could win with a weak record and Democrats could keep the Senate, they may need to realize it's not an issue of not being conservative enough.