By Bruce Stokes, Director of Pew Global Economic Attitudes, Pew Research Center

Now that the election is over, the hard work begins. The U.S. economy is careening toward a so-called fiscal cliff that could dramatically shrink output in 2013. Confrontations loom with Iran over its nuclear weapons program and China over its trade practices.

Yet while the American people have chosen Barack Obama to navigate these shoals over the next four years, they remain deeply divided over what to do about these challenges. Obama has a mandate to govern, but his mandate on specific issues is far from clear. His biggest challenge may be to bridge the divides among the American people.

The economy was issue number one for voters on election day: 59 percent named the economy as their top concern, 15 percent said the government deficit, according to election day exit polls released by AP. The results echo a CNN exit poll that suggested 60 percent of voters see the economy as their top concern, with 38 percent saying that unemployment was their top economic worry.

Unless a comprehensive deficit reduction plan is agreed upon by January 1, 2013, dramatic cuts to U.S. defense and social welfare spending and significant tax hikes will kick in.

The non-partisan U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing such measures would shrink the American economy by 0.5 percent in 2013. Such a course would ripple through a global economy already hobbled by recession in Europe and a slowdown in China, India and Japan.

Read the full commentary at CNN’s Global Public Square blog