Barack Obama won a convincing victory on the basis of deep voter concerns about the state of the economy and strong disapproval of President Bush. He also benefited from overwhelming support from new voters and those under 30. Hispanic voters helped him win in several key states.
Half of all voters said that they thought that the economy was in poor condition and were very worried about the direction of the economy in the next year. Many feared that the worsening economic conditions would affect them personally. Eight out of 10 voters nationally said they were worried that the economic crisis would hurt their own family's finances.
Obama was far more successful than John McCain in convincing voters that he was better able to handle the economic crisis. Obama got two-thirds of the votes of people who said that the nation's economy was poor, and almost 60 percent of voters who were worried that the economy would affect them and their families.
Concerns about the economy stretched from the poorest to wealthiest Americans. Obama did particularly well among those voters with family incomes of less than $50,000, winning 60 percent of their votes. But he also ran even with McCain among voters making at least $100,000. And he beat McCain by 6 percent among voters with incomes over $200,000. In this group of wealthy voters, Obama did over 15 percent better than John Kerry four years ago.
The strongest indication of voter concern in this election was the 75 percent who said the country was on the wrong track. Among this large group of voters, Obama beat McCain by a convincing margin of 62-36 percent.
McCain's strength in national security was not enough to overcome Obama's advantages on the economy. He bested Obama by a 54-43 percent margin among voters who said that they were very worried about another terrorist attack on the U.S.
However, this group only made up a quarter of all voters. And the remaining three-quarters of voters went strongly for Obama. Just 9 percent of voters nationally said that terrorism was the most important issue facing the country - a significant decrease from four years ago. Instead, more than 60 percent said the economy was the most important problem, and another 9 percent cited health care. Obama won these voters convincingly.
A major problem for McCain was widespread negative feelings toward President Bush. Fully half of all voters strongly disapproved of the way Bush is handling his job. And virtually the same number said that McCain would continue Bush's policies. Among those voters who strongly disapproved of Bush, McCain only tallied 16 percent of the vote. McCain's inability to separate himself from the unpopular president made his quest for the White House an uphill battle that he failed to win.
Several groups of voters contributed substantially to the Democrat's victory. Almost two-thirds of voters under 30 supported Obama - a substantially higher number than supported John Kerry four years ago. New voters, 11 percent of the electorate, gave their votes to Obama by a better than 2-to-1 margin. This compares to Obama's slim two percent advantage over McCain among repeat voters.
The Obama campaign appears to have had great success in attracting support from people who hadn't voted before and, most importantly, was able to get them to the polls.
It may not be surprising that African-Americans turned out in large numbers to help elect the first black president in U.S. history. (He received 95 percent of the black vote.)
Another group of voters - Hispanics - also gave Obama a major boost. He received two-thirds of the votes cast by Hispanics nationally, a 13 percent gain over John Kerry's total in 2004. In several states - Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico - Hispanic support was critical to Obama's victories.
Finally, McCain was largely unable to capitalize on the long and divisive Democratic nomination battle. Among the Democrats who said that they wanted Hillary Clinton to win the nomination, Obama won almost 85 percent of the vote. In the end, Democrats coalesced around Obama, giving him 90 percent of their vote. That, along with a slight majority of independents, provided him with the support he needed to win the election.Stanley Feldman is a professor of political science and Associate Director of the Center for Survey Research at Stony Brook University. He teaches and conduct research on public opinion, voting, and political ideology. Feldman was previously a member of the Board of Overseers for the American National Election Studies, and holds a PhD in political science from the University of Minnesota.
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