Hard work now begins for Obama

President Barack Obama retained power yesterday after a presidential campaign which featured vitriolic name-calling and the largest amount of spending yet on television advertising.

Looking at the US electoral results, Mr Obama will realise he has some work to do if he wants to bring together a nation divided along clear geographical, gender and demographic lines.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney won well in the south and central states, with Florida being the standout win there for Mr Obama.

Mr Obama won in the northeast and the west.

The sitting president also won clear support from women and younger people.

Such is the division in the US that even the two houses remain divided. The Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives, but the Democrats made surprising gains to retain control of the Senate.

Mr Obama will want to create a legacy in this four-year term.

To do so, he needs to, at the least, produce the perception that he can build relationships to get through some of his most coveted policies. Whether he can do so in such a ruptured political atmosphere remains to be seen.

It is possible for a US presidential candidate to win the popular vote but not the White House owing to the Electoral College voting system. With Florida and California being counted so late in the day, Mr Obama trailed Mr Romney for long periods of the counting.

Tellingly, some of the Republican candidates who were pilloried in public for their comments regarding rape - and that babies of rape attacks were "a gift from God" - lost their seats.

For a country which prides itself on being the world's greatest democracy, the voting system in the United States seems to erect endless barricades against allowing people to exercise their democratic right.

News feeds through the day indicated incidents of voter registration and election irregularities throughout some of the most crucial voting states.

In Florida, hundreds of people were still in line at Ronald Reagan High School in the Miami suburb of Doral when the doors shut, even though voters who had arrived before 7pm were entitled to vote. In some other Miami precincts, voting was halted when ballot papers ran out. Many voters gave up rather than weather six-hour lines.

Voters in some poor areas of Ohio were reportedly asked for their photo identification, even though that was not a requirement. And the address on the ID had to match an address book at the polling booth, again not a requirement.

Voting has been extended on parts of the East Coast until Friday to allow people displaced by Hurricane Sandy to vote by email or fax. There were reports of malfunctioning election scanners in Cleveland.

Irregularities aside, the world will watch closely as some important milestones near.

The so-called fiscal cliff arrives on January 1. At that moment, unless agreement is reached within the fractured Congress, $US600 billion ($NZ724 billion) of tax increases and spending cuts are automatically triggered. That amount alone is expected to cut 1.3% from economic activity, pushing the US back into recession.

Jobless numbers, although falling, are still high and figures out yesterday suggested that employers are not hiring. The job market remains very competitive. With 12.1 million people unemployed in September, there were 3.4 unemployed people, on average, competing for each open job. In a healthy economy, that ratio is roughly two to one.

Government debt remains high but the chances of the Federal Reserve stopping the printing of money soon remains slight.

The US remains the world's largest economy and President Obama has much to do to provide stability and security for a nation fractured by a nasty election. He has won his second term. Now, the hard work must begin.