On-the-mark election predictions, and why Obama won
Posted by James McPherson on November 5, 2008
Back in August, when the national polls had the presidential race as close as it got (Zogby gave John McCain the lead), I predicted that in spite of minor irritations offered by GOP mudslinging and PUMAs (who now are noteworthy only because they’re among the few people in America who have ended up on the wrong side in three consecutive presidential elections), Barack Obama would win by a substantial margin: “by the widest margin seen since at least Bill Clinton’s 379-159 victory over Bob Dole in 1996, and maybe since Ronald Reagan slaughtered Walter ‘I-won-my-home-state-of-Minnesota-and-the District-of Columbia’ Mondale 525-13 in 1984.”
With 26 electoral votes (Indiana and North Carolina) still undecided at this point, Obama now has 349 wrapped up, and as CNN notes, has “redrawn the electoral map.” The redrawing, by the way, is something I suggested would be important in my recent book (in which I also suggested that Obama might do well because of similarities to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan): “The question also remains whether any Democrat from outside the South can win the White House. If so, the party’s next-best option might seem to be still in the Sunbelt region but farther west. A logical choice might be a governor from a state such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, or even Colorado.”
New Mexico and Colorado went Democratic in this election (as California long has), but I was somewhat surprised that a candidate from the Midwest–though one that managed to draw a heavy Hispanic vote–was the one who turned those states from red to blue. The Midwestern connection also helped Obama win the traditionally red state of Indiana.
More surprising to me was the popular vote margin, with Obama getting 52 percent of the tally at this point. Electoral votes are what count, of course, but a candidate who gets a majority of the popular vote (something Bill Clinton didn’t do with either of his victories, nor did George W. Bush in 2000) can argue that he has more of a mandate for change. Combined with a heavily Democratic Congress and a nationwide eagerness for change, Obama might actually be able to accomplish some goals.
Perhaps. But I also recognize that Obama is a pragmatic politician, and that perhaps the Democrats have learned from the Republican excesses of 2000-2006. As a result, my fear is that Obama and Congressional Dems will govern so cautiously for the next two years that they keep a majority in 2010–and so cautiously that, because not enough progress will have been achieved, they lose that majority and perhaps the presidency in 2012.
As for the election, some people blame McCain’s margin of defeat on the failing economy, and there’s some truth to that. But Americans realized they had serious economic problems even before the “collapse” of a few weeks ago, and if the economy hadn’t taken center stage, I’m convinced that the fact that the Iraqis want us out of Iraq would have numbed the Iraq War surge argument that McCain kept trying to push.
Some blame the McCain campaign for being too negative, or not negative enough, but he was in a tough spot. Trailing candidates most need to bring down their opponents through negative ads, and Republicans have used those ads to help depress turnout in the past. But in times of trouble the voters like optimists–like Obama, and like Reagan and Clinton before him.
Some blame Sarah Palin, who was badly misused by her GOP handlers and who proved to be at least as big a hindrance as a help. But the fact is that she gave McCain a serious boost when he needed it most (why I and some others recommended her selection before most people had ever heard of her). She probably kept the race from getting away from McCain earlier than it did.
I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of Palin, though I’m not as optimistic as some about her future chances. For one thing, this election seemed to prove that negative campaigning–one of the major jobs of a vice presidential candidate–by a woman is viewed as less acceptable than the same language coming from a man. It’s an old story for strong women: Men are viewed as forceful, while women who do the same thing are viewed as bitchy. Ironically, a woman might have better luck at the top of the ticket than as the VP nominee.
In fact, however, the biggest reasons for the Obama landslide were the incredible 50-state campaign strategy put together by Obama and the oft-maligned Howard Dean, the campaign’s use of the Internet for organizing events and fundraising, and the fact that real problems–problems created and compounded largely by the Bush administration and its Congressional lackeys–made this a year in which Republicans were almost guaranteed to lose.
McCain might have been the only Republican with a chance to win this year, and conditions would have had to be nearly perfect for him to do so. On the plus side, McCain got his Bob Dole moment in the sun (let’s hope he spares us from commercials for erectile dysfunction and Pepsi). It is sad that McCain sunk so low in his negative campaigning, but he gave a gracious and moving concession speech. The national political scene being what it is, he will find his way back into the good graces of the Senate and the national media (unlike “Joe the Turncoat” Lieberman, perhaps–a two-time loser of an “ally” that I predict no presidential candidate from either party will want in the future).
All in all, thank God it’s over. Now Obama’s real work begins, and Iowa can start gearing up for visits by possible 2012 candidates. With any luck, PUMAs, Obama Girl, and Joe the Plumber will fade away. Regardless, the GOP will be back, even if we (and they) don’t yet know when or in what form.