11/07/2012 04:55 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

The Reelection of the President, and the Work Ahead

In an election this close, many factors helped President Obama win this historic victory. But I want to highlight two major factors that were at work, which contain the signals for the tasks we still have ahead of us. The first was President Obama's decision, over a year ago in his Labor Day speech, to heed the call from advocates to put the fight for economic fairness and the needs of working people (including those in the automobile industry) at the center of his agenda and campaign. The second is the change and broadening of the electorate, which is beginning to reflect the true face of America in its age, racial makeup, and increasing tolerance for diversity.

Now that the election is over, the next phase of critically important work begins on these two fronts. On economic and fiscal policy, the closeness of the popular vote shows that Americans are really at a crossroads moment in thinking about our future directions. We hope the president will resist the calls to 'govern from the center', which really means not fighting for economic equality, a strong role for government, investing in our people and economy. We hope instead he will lead in molding public opinion and building public will for the kind of economic and social policies ordinary Americans still desperately need. This doesn't require harsh partisanship, but it does require a willingness to really fight for a just way forward.

It is completely clear that the president, and other elected leaders, cannot do this on their own. On 60 Minutes, President Obama said the biggest mistake of his first term was not calling on grassroots and public support for the policies he championed. I believe that is true, and that it is up to all of us to build a movement with strength and resolve to keep progress moving forward. For Demos, that means developing research on behalf of policies that will truly create a strong and diverse future for the middle class, including sustainable pathways into it. And it means arguing for those policies -- creatively and repeatedly -- in the public square, and working with organizations and citizens to give those policies true and powerful support.

For advocates of democracy, the broadening of the electorate evident in last night's returns was heartening at every level. But there can be no complacency in the fact that the outrageous sums of unaccountable money spent in the campaign, efforts to limit access to voting, and egregious administrative failures did not result in a regressive result or a chaotic finish to the election. This election illustrated profound problems in our election process. From running out of provisional ballots and illegal voter ID requests in Pennsylvania to the ongoing collection of problems in Florida, we saw a system that falls well short of the democracy this country and its citizens deserve. If we are going to ensure that all eligible Americans have the freedom to vote, economic equality and an equal voice in deciding the future of the country, we must remove the bureaucratic red tape that blocks potential voters from registering and casting their ballots. This means implementing sensible reforms like Same Day Registration, automatic registration, and portable registration -- and it means we must repeal the remaining voter ID laws that threaten to disenfranchise too many Americans.

The fight to expand our democracy, to improve its workings and to resist efforts to limit it or to buy it, is critical to our country's future. I hope that President Obama and elected officials at every level will see this need and mount a strong effort to make American democracy all that it truly can be. This, too, cannot be an insiders' effort. We need to build a real movement for democracy that makes it a front burner issue in our country's debate. At Demos we have done this for 12 years since our founding. Our efforts in this regard will redouble, working with elected officials, colleagues, and allies across the country at the state and federal level. Strong and fair campaign finance rules, enhanced access to registration and voting, real opportunities for civic engagement year round, are policies that need support from every part of the political community.

We congratulate President Obama on his victories, and all the candidates who worked so hard in this year's election, win or lose. But the fight to fulfill the promise of this victory now belongs to all of us.