Wednesday 5 November 2008

Five reasons Obama won, and five why McCain lost

Okay, so having still had very little (4 hours) sleep and an incessantly chirpy world media, I thought I'd weigh in with a little analysis of why what happened happened, and why what might have happened didn't happen. And what might happen now that what happened happened. If you see what I mean.

So here are five reasons why Obama won the election:

1) The country was ready for "change we can believe in." Not quite as succinct as "It's time" but I guess the same principle. Obama's message was simple: Washington needs changed - and he was the man to do it. And that message resonated with voters.

2) He got the vote out. Obama's appeal was not just to the African American vote, nor to young people (who saw him as "cool"). He talked to all parts of society. His campaign also pulled in a huge number of first-time voters after massive registration-drives across the country.

3) The massive campaign warchest. By election day it totalled over £400m ($650m), with which McCain - limiting himself to the federal limit - could not compete.

4) Celebrity appeal. At rallies across the country, Obama spoke to crowds running up to 100,000 people. And he spoke with an effortlessness, a certain (if you pardon the cliche) je ne sais quoi. You don't know what it is, but you know it when you see it. And Obama had it - at least for 63 million Americans.

5) America has
itself changed. Just over half a century ago, civil rights activists saw a huge victory in stopping segregation on buses. Fifty years later, America has, finally, elected an African American to the highest office in the land. And yes - seeing the Rev Jesse Jackson with tears streaming down his face did pull at a heartstring or two here.

And here are five reasons that McCain lost:

1) The economy
2) The campaign he was forced to run (ie - to the right)

3) The choice of Sarah Palin as running mate
4) Eight years of George W Bush representing the Republican party

5) He was running against a force of nature



PJ 5 November 2008 at 21:21  

The Republican Party is synonymous with the most unpopular, possibly also least credible, President that has ever held office. McCain's voting record of support for Bush compounded his problem of being condemned by association.

However, what disappointed me most about Republican tactics was the negative campaigning. The personal (and often unsubstantiated) attacks that smacked of desperation. I have commented about this many times before on Scottish political blogs (and had my fingers rapped for doing so) when personal insults are used to mask an apparent lack of a credible argument. I don't believe for a moment that McCain lacked credibility but I think he was very poorly advised at various stages of his campaign.

There are many things that will stick in my mind about this election but I have to share the most recent, the most bizarre....I have just watched Jeremy Paxman interview Dizzee Rascal about the changing political landscape of the world! Never before have I heard the phrase "innit" used in a political debate...

Anonymous,  5 November 2008 at 23:19  

Obama was shooting at an open goal. The fact that McCain was able to poll some 47% of the popular vote and prevented a complete implosion for the GOP is an achievement in itself. The sense I'm getting, I have relatives in Virginia who voted McCain, is that while they, and other like minded people are disappointed that McCain lost, they are proud that an African-American has become President because of what that says about America. The majority of GOP voters yesterday didn't vote against Obama because of his race but because of his policies, particularly on abortion. You may or may not agree with them on that issue, but they judged Obama on his policies and not on his ethnicity.

Sam 5 November 2008 at 23:23  

Every candidate offers change. It seems the American people, a lot of them anyway, believed Obama could actually deliver that. Simple analysis perhaps, but that is fundamentally what happens when we choose our leaders & representatives in a democracy.

The difference this time is in the amount of change Obama represents, the symbolism of electing the first black/mixed race President. That means a lot to a nation that has far greater problems dealing with its racial history than we sometimes remember.

It didn't directly affect the election, but its worth noting that that symbolism means something even outside the US where Obama is vastly more popular than any other recent US politician.

That does point to his wider appeal. It wasn't just blacks who elected him, it was what people are poetically calling a "broad rainbow coalition of voters". Obama's voter demographics represents unity, a chance of overcoming the culture wars that divided the US, and led to the dominance of Reagan's Republican southern strategy. People now expect their leader to take America into what they can see is a dangerous world, but they rejected the vision of fear presented by Bush & McCain.

It seems to me a very positive choice, and something to look forward to.

Anonymous,  5 November 2008 at 23:28  

Completely agree with your points.

One small detail to the 5th McCain point.

Yes. Obama could be described as a force of nature, and obviously that didn't help McCain.

But such were the circumstances that McCain found himself in, as your points 1-4 indicate, that I think that Hillary Clinton if selected would have also won the race.

Sam 5 November 2008 at 23:31  

Just realised I didn't mention the economy! Obviously the biggest issue, obviously influenced a lot of voters and (mostly through McCain's blunder on the subject) badly wounded the Republican campain.

It just seems the positive reasons are more important in voters decision-making than circumstances. I suspect Obama's calm, confident, statesman-like air throughout the campaign made people think he could manage any crisis, including the one they blamed the Republicans for.

So I agree with the watcher, the symbolism of an African-American President inspired hope, but he was indeed judged on his policies.

Anonymous,  6 November 2008 at 11:05  

McCain's age must have counted against him aswell.

I think when you are talking about campaigns I think Obama led a (slightly) more positive campaign which always resonates. I think selecting Joe Biden was an inspired move which demonstrated he had strength of judgement (ie by not caving in to pick Hilary)

Showing a human side in terms of his grandmother will also have counted in his favour in the crucial last few days.

These are obviously not the main issues (i think you covered them well) but just wee add ons

I do not agree that Obama was shooting at an open goal. Bush was unpopular, but he was also unpopular in 2004. I also do not agree that Hilary would have won had she been the candidate, i think that is far too wide an assumption to make. Had Hilary been the candidate McCain WOULD NOT have picked Palin and probably hedged for a stronger VP candidate who would have added to McCain's standing not diminished it.

Just my thoughts

Malc 6 November 2008 at 12:43  

All good points, which I will respond to a bit later - when I have a bit more time!

Malc 6 November 2008 at 17:58  

PJ – Association with Bush undoubtedly contributed to McCain’s downfall. And yes poor advice probably also contributed – while I have said before that I don’t think he had any choice but to run to the right, it could have been done more positively and in a less divisive way. Though I’d still suggest it probably wouldn’t have made much difference – Obama’s candidature captured the mood of an expectant nation.

From the moment George Bush was sworn in for the second time this election has been the Democrats’ to lose. The fact that – after the Republican convention McCain was leading in polls was down to the fact that he is an exceptional individual and was the only candidate who could take on the Democrats this time round.

Malc 6 November 2008 at 18:01  

The watcher – I’ll have to go along with most of what you say. Maybe wasn’t quite an open goal, but as I say, it was his party’s to lose. And McCain did do well to mobilise his core vote (which, actually, was probably due to his choice of Palin, who spoke to the base) and save the GOP from a wipeout.

And I’d hope that more people were like your relatives.

Malc 6 November 2008 at 18:08  


I’m not convinced people think Obama can deliver all the change that is needed. I think they like to think he can. But it doesn’t matter – the symbolism of having an African American President IS change in itself – and emphasizes the “change we can believe in.”

By the way, are you and Alex Salmond in league?

“People now expect their leader to take America into what they can see is a dangerous world, but they rejected the vision of fear presented by Bush & McCain.” SAM

“A victory for optimism over pessimism, for hope over fear.” SALMOND

By the way, I disagree with both of you.

Sam 6 November 2008 at 18:37  

Alex Salmond agrees with ME.

Sam 6 November 2008 at 19:06  

Well I didn't say all the change that is needed, just that he represents the best hope for any change.

And of course the symbolism is tremendously important, both for what it represents and for what it directly changes.

So you do agree with me. And Alex.

Malc 6 November 2008 at 19:28  

I don't disagree that Obama is an optimistic choice for America and for hope. I disagree that to elect McCain would have been a choise of pessimism and fear. Obama's victory wasn't about rejection of McCain's world view. It was a positive agenda - a force for change. Both you and Alex are wrong to categorise McCain that way. Bush perhaps...

Sam 6 November 2008 at 19:50  

That's true, despite Obama very effectively pinning the Bush label to McCain, it was unfair to say the least. McCain wasn't Bush, and I don't believe his foreign policy would resemble the neocon agenda.

But it is true that McCain, in typical Republican style, portrayed himself as the warrior, the defender of the traditional American values of patriotism and all that c**p. As though being tortured is a good thing.

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