The election in America – held on November 4th 2008 – resulted in the first non-white American being elected as President – Barack Obama. As the November election loomed nearer, many of the polls predicted a win for Obama over his Republican rival John McCain. These polls were right but few predicted the extent of the victory if Electoral College seats are taken into consideration as opposed to the number of people who voted for each candidate.
Barack Obama was successful in the following states (with Electoral College votes in brackets):
New Hampshire (4)
New Jersey (15)
New Mexico (5)
New York (31)
Rhode Island (3)
Washington DC (3)
John McCain was successful in the following states (with Electoral College seats in brackets)
North Carolina (15)
North Dakota (3)
South Carolina (8)
South Dakota (3)
West Virginia (5)
Barack Obama 365 Electoral College votes with 53% of the vote (66,882,230)
John McCain 173 Electoral College votes with 46% of the vote (58,343,671)
Either candidate needed 270 Electoral College seats to win. Having won six of the seven ‘big’ states (California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania have a combined Electoral College value of 175 seats/votes) it soon became clear that John McCain had lost and Barack Obama had won.
Why did Obama win?
Many in America believe that McCain was a victim of George W Bush’s unpopularity and that because of their Republican link McCain could do nothing to shake off this association. McCain announced that he would be a “very different” president to Bush but the message this sent to the party’s right wing was that he could become a maverick. To what extent they influenced McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate is difficult to know. However, her views on abortion, gun ownership and the environment would have found favour with them. What part Palin played in McCain’s defeat will also be difficult to assess. Her “hockey mum” image initially went down well but it could not be sustained when it was announced that $150,000 had been spent on her wardrobe. In very public interviews it also became clear that her knowledge of foreign affairs was more limited than her counterpart Joe Biden. Those who were going to vote Republican regardless would not have changed their minds because of Palin. However, she failed to win over the very group that the Republicans needed to – those who had not made up their minds which way to vote. Post-voting polls suggested that as many as 60% of Americans believed that she was not fit to be president while 38% believed that she was.
Obama was very much associated with the word “change” and he used the word with a degree of frequency in his victory speech held in Grant Square, Chicago, in front of 240,000 people. Only time will tell whether Obama’s use of modern technology was a winner. He certainly used the Internet more than the McCain campaign and it became common to see Obama using his Blackberry during the election campaign. His two main aides during the campaign were David Axelrod (chief strategist) and David Plouffe (campaign manager). Axelrod is credited with homing in on the “change” strategy while Plouffe is credited with overseeing the whole organisation of the campaign. In his victory speech Obama called Plouffe “the unsung hero of this campaign”.
The make-up of the electorate was also in Obama’s favour when compared to the past. In 1980, 88% of the votes cast in the election of that year were by White Americans. 10% of votes cast were by Black Americans and 2% by Hispanic Americans. In the 2008 election, the electorate was very different. 74% of votes cast were by White Americans (a drop of 14%) while Black Americans increased to 13%, Hispanic Americans to 9% and “others” to 4%. Therefore the increase in non-Whites voting was 14% over the last 28 years.
55% of White Americans voted for McCain and 43% for Obama.
95% of Black Americans voted for Obama and 5% for McCain.
66% of Hispanic Americans voted for Obama and 31% for McCain.
62% of Asian Americans voted for Obama and 35% for McCain.
56% of women who voted did so for Obama and 43% for McCain.
49% of men voted for Obama and 48% for McCain.
66% of 18 to 29 year olds voted for Obama; 31% for McCain.
53% of 30 to 44 year olds voted for Obama; 46% for McCain.
49% of 45 to 49 year olds voted for Obama; 49% for McCain.
52% of those aged 60 and above voted for Obama; 46 for McCain.