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So What Happened? Wrapping Up the Long Campaign

The final installment of the U.S. Presidential Election lecture series

Reflecting the intense interest in the Nov. 4 election, a full house packed the library first floor lounge on Nov. 20 as Matthew Kerbel, Ph.D., political science department, analyzed the results and exit polls of the presidential and congressional elections, followed by responses by the three preceding speakers of the series, Dr. Lara Brown, Dr. Catherine Wilson and Dr. David Barrett.

Regarding the presidential race, Dr. Kerbel stated that the opinion polls prior to the election were largely correct. Significant numbers of young and new voters did vote, and white voters did not say they supported Barack Obama but then switch to John McCain, negating the so-called Bradley effect.

Obama’s successful campaign came about through building a new coalition, expanding the Democratic base geographically and demographically. McCain’s supporters were a less diverse coalition of mainly older people and those clustered around the Appalachians. A major problem for the McCain campaign was that attempts to appeal to social conservatives, such as the selection of Governor Sarah Palin as a running mate, drove away independent voters.

The good news continued for the Democrats in the congressional races where they gained at least twenty seats in the House and seven in the Senate. Unaligned independents are a growing voting block, draining more from the Republicans than the Democrats. Dr. Kerbel foresaw continued trouble for the Republicans as they try to appeal to both social conservatives and independents, a situation which may worsen if the party’s various factions continue feuding. Republican troubles may be Obama’s opportunity: Dr. Kerbel noted that Obama need not appeal to Southern conservatives as he proposes new policies.

The other speakers expressed their opinions about the election. Dr. Brown most directly opposed Dr. Kerbel’s discussion; she sees Obama’s election as less a general realignment of the country than a reaction to the current economic crisis. Dr. Wilson confirmed that Obama did extremely well with Hispanic voters and also made significant gains with religious voters compared to what Al Gore and John Kerry received in their presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004. These demographic gains played a major role in Obama’s victory.

Finally, Dr. Barrett wondered how long the American public will remain patient with Obama if the economy does not immediately recover. He confirmed that national security was a secondary issue in the election. Dr. Barrett also argued for continuity in the leadership of the government’s intelligence agencies, though he admitted it was unlikely. All the participants then answered questions from the large crowd of attendees.

If you have comments on the Election Series speakers or the election, please share them below.

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Last Modified: December 3, 2008