|Nominee||Barack Obama||John McCain|
|Running mate||Joe Biden||Sarah Palin|
|States carried||28 + DC + NE-02||22|
|Presidential election results map. Blue denotes states/districts won by Obama/Biden, and Red denotes those won by McCain/Palin. Numbers indicate electoral votes allotted to the winner of each state. Obama won one electoral vote (from Nebraska's 2nd congressional district) of Nebraska's five.|
The 56th quadrennial United States presidential election was held on November 4, 2008. Outgoing Republican President George W. Bush's policies and actions and the American public's desire for change were key issues throughout the campaign. During the presidential election campaign, the major-party candidates ran on a platform of change and reform in Washington. Domestic policy and the economy eventually emerged as the main themes in the last few months of the election campaign after the onset of the 2008 economic crisis.
Democrat Barack Obama, then junior United States Senator from Illinois, defeated Republican John McCain. Nine states changed allegiance from the 2004 election. Each had voted for the Republican nominee in 2004 and contributed to Obama's sizable Electoral College victory. The selected electors from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia voted for President and Vice President of the United States on December 15, 2008. Those votes were tallied before a joint session of Congress on January 8, 2009. Obama received 365 electoral votes, and McCain 173.
There were several unique aspects of the 2008 election. The election was the first in which an African American was elected President. It was also the first time two sitting senators ran against each other. The 2008 election was the first in 56 years in which neither an incumbent president nor a vice president ran — Bush was constitutionally limited from seeking a third term by the Twenty-second Amendment; Vice President Dick Cheney chose not to seek the presidency. It was also the first time the Republican Party nominated a woman for Vice President (Sarah Palin, then-Governor of Alaska). Additionally, it was the first election in which both major parties nominated candidates who were born outside of the contiguous United States. Voter turnout for the 2008 election was the highest in at least 40 years.
In 2004, President George W. Bush narrowly won reelection, defeating the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry. After Republican pickups in the House and Senate in the 2004 elections, Republicans maintained control of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.
Bush's approval ratings had been slowly declining from their high point of almost 90% after 9/11, and they were barely 50% by his reelection. Although Bush was reelected with a larger Electoral College margin than in 2000, during his second term, Bush's approval rating dropped more quickly, with the Iraq War and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 being most detrimental to the public's perception of his job performance.
By September 2006, Bush's approval rating was below 40%, and in the November 2006 Congressional elections, Democrats gained the majority in both houses. Bush's approval ratings continued to drop steadily throughout the rest of his term.
In the United States, there are two major political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. There are also several minor parties, usually called third parties, who have not won a presidential election since 1864. Most media and public focus is on the two major parties.
Each party hosts candidates who go through a nomination process to determine the presidential nominee for that party. The nomination process consists of primaries and caucuses, held by the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The winner of each of these primary elections usually receives delegates proportional to the percentage of the popular vote that candidate received in each states. In many Republican primaries, all the state's delegates are awarded to the winning candidate. In the Democratic Party, high-ranking party members known as superdelegates each receive one vote in at the convention. Whichever candidate has the majority of the delegates at the end of the primary elections is designated the presumptive nominee until he or she is formally nominated and endorsed for the presidency by his or her political party. This is done by the aforementioned delegates for each party.
Media speculation began almost immediately after the results of the 2004 presidential elections became known. In the 2006 midterm elections, the Democrats regained majorities in both houses of Congress. Early polls taken before anyone had announced a candidacy had shown Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the most popular potential Democratic candidates. Nevertheless, the media speculated on several other candidates, including Al Gore, the runner-up in the 2000 election; John Kerry, the runner-up in the 2004 election; John Edwards, his running mate; Delaware Senator Joseph Biden; New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack; and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.
Edwards was one of the first to formally announce his candidacy for the presidency, on December 28, 2006. This run would be his second attempt at the presidency. Clinton announced intentions to run in the Democratic primaries on January 20, 2007. Obama announced his candidacy on February 10 in his home state of Illinois. None of the candidates received a significant bounce in their poll numbers after their official announcements. Through most of 2007, even after it was evident Al Gore would not run, John Edwards and Al Gore each hovered between the third and fourth place spots in the polls behind Clinton and Obama.
"Front-runner" status is dependent on the news agency reporting, and by October 2007, the consensus listed the three aforementioned candidates as leading the pack after several debate performances. The Washington Post listed Clinton, Edwards and Obama as the front-runners, "leading in polls and fundraising and well ahead of the other major candidates". Clinton led in nearly all nationwide opinion polling until January 2008.
Comedian Stephen Colbert mounted his own campaign for the nomination in his home state of South Carolina, announcing it in October 2007. Public Opinion Strategies conducted a poll and found Colbert nationally in fifth place at 2.3% behind Sen. Joseph Biden's 2.7% 
The early primaries and caucuses are considered the most critical of nomination process. Most candidates lacking support drop out after doing poorly in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and these states' results often shift national preferences, according to historical polling data. The states that hold early primaries and caucuses are, chronologically, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. In 2008, Florida and Michigan moved their primaries into January against the Democratic Party's rules, and the results of these primaries were discounted and disputed until after the rest of the contests occurred.
At the start of the year, support for Barack Obama began rising in the polls, passing Clinton for first place in Iowa; Obama ended up winning the Iowa caucus, with John Edwards coming in second and Clinton in third. Obama's win was fueled mostly by first time caucus-goers and Independents and showed voters viewed him as the candidate of change. Iowa is viewed as the state that jump-started Obama's campaign and set him on track to win the nomination and the presidency. After the Iowa caucus, Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd withdrew from the nomination contest.
Obama became the new front-runner in New Hampshire when his poll numbers skyrocketed after his victory in Iowa. The Clinton campaign was struggling after a bad loss in Iowa and no strategy beyond the early primaries and caucuses. According to The Vancouver Sun, "Campaign strategists had mapped a victory scenario that envisioned the former first lady wrapping up the Democratic presidential nomination by Super Tuesday on Feb. 5." In what is considered a turning point for her campaign, Clinton had a strong performance at the Saint Anselm College, ABC and Facebook debates several days before the New Hampshire Primary as well as an emotional interview in a public broadcast live on TV. By the end of that day, Clinton won the primary by 2% of the vote, contrary to the predictions of pollsters who consistently had her trailing Obama for a few days up to the primary date, after his poll numbers skyrocketed at the end of December 2007. On January 30, 2008, after placing in third in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, Edwards announced that he was suspending his campaign for the presidency, but he did not initially endorse any remaining candidate.
Super Tuesday occurred on February 5, 2008, during which the largest-ever number of simultaneous state primary elections was held. Super Tuesday ended leaving the Democrats in a virtual tie, with Obama amounting 847 delegates to Clinton's 834 from the 23 states that held Democratic primaries.
Earlier, on February 3 on the UCLA campus, celebrities Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy and Stevie Wonder, among others, made appearances to show support for Barack Obama in a rally led by Michelle Obama. In addition, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, endorsed Obama. California was one of the Super Tuesday states that were rich in delegates. Obama trailed in the California polling by an average of 6.0% before the primary; he ended up losing the state by 8.3%. Some analysts cited a large Latino turnout that voted for Clinton as the deciding factor.
Louisiana, Washington, Nebraska, Hawaii, Wisconsin, U.S. Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia primaries and the Maine caucus all took place after Super Tuesday in February. Obama won all of them, giving him ten consecutive victories after Super Tuesday.
On March 4, Hillary Clinton carried Ohio and Rhode Island in the Democratic primaries; some considered these wins, especially Ohio, a surprise upset, although she led in the polling averages in both states. She also carried the primary in Texas, but Obama won the Texas caucuses held the same day and netted more delegates from the state than Clinton.
Only one state held a primary in April. This was Pennsylvania, on April 22. Although Obama made a strong effort to win Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton won the primary by nearly 10%, with approximately 55% of the vote. Obama had outspent Clinton three to one in Pennsylvania, but his comment at a San Francisco fundraiser that small-town Americans "cling" to guns and religion drew sharp criticism from the Clinton campaign and may have hurt his chances in the Keystone State. In addition, Clinton had several advantages in Pennsylvania. Throughout the primary process, she relied on the support of older, white, working class voters. Pennsylvania held a closed primary, which means that only registered Democrats could vote, and, according to Ron Elving of NPR, "The established Democratic electorate was older, whiter, more Catholic and more working-class than in most of the primaries to date." After Pennsylvania, Obama was still in a stronger position than Clinton to win the nomination, with a higher number of delegates and popular votes, but Clinton still had received the endorsement of more superdelegates.
On May 6, North Carolina and Indiana held their Democratic presidential primaries. Clinton and Obama campaigned aggressively there before the voting took place. The candidates acknowledged the importance of these primaries and said they were turning point states that could make or break either of their campaigns. Polling had shown Obama a few points ahead in North Carolina and Clinton similarly leading in Indiana. In the actual results, Obama outperformed the polls by several points in both states, winning by a significant margin in North Carolina and losing by only 1.1% in Indiana (50.56% to 49.44%). After these primaries, most pundits declared that it had become increasingly improbable, if not impossible, for Clinton to win the nomination. The small win in Indiana barely kept her campaign alive for the next month. Although she did manage to win the majority of the remaining primaries and delegates, it was not enough to overcome Obama's substantial delegate lead.
During late 2007, the two parties adopted rules against states' moving their primaries to an earlier date in the year. For the Republicans, the penalty for this violation was supposed to be the loss of half the state party's delegates to the convention. The Democratic penalty was the complete exclusion from the national convention of delegates from states that broke these rules. The Democratic Party allowed only four states to hold elections before February 5, 2008. Initially, the Democratic leadership said it would strip all delegates from Florida and Michigan, which had moved their primaries into January. In addition, all major Democratic candidates agreed officially not to campaign in Florida or Michigan, and Edwards and Obama removed their names from the Michigan ballot. Clinton won a majority of delegates and popular votes from both states (though 40% voted uncommitted in Michigan) and subsequently led a fight to seat all the Florida and Michigan delegates.
Political columnist Christopher Weber noted that while her action was self-serving, it was also pragmatic to forestall Florida or Michigan voters becoming so disaffected they did not vote for Democrats in the general election. There was some speculation that the fight over the delegates could last until the convention in August. On May 31, 2008, the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic Party reached a compromise on the Florida and Michigan delegate situation. The committee decided to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida at the convention in August, but to only award each a half-vote.
Technically the nomination process for major political parties continues through June of election year. In previous cycles the candidates were effectively chosen by the end of the March primaries. However, Barack Obama did not win enough delegates to secure the nomination until June 3, after a 17-month-long campaign against Hillary Clinton. Obama had a wide lead in states won, while Clinton had won majorities in several of the larger states. Because a form of proportional representation and popular vote decided Democratic state delegate contests, numbers were close between Clinton and Obama, the contest for the nomination continued into June 2008. By May, Clinton claimed a lead in the popular vote, but the Associated Press found her numbers accurate only in one close scenario.
In June, after the last of the primaries had taken place, Obama secured the Democratic nomination for President, with the help of multiple super delegate endorsements (most of the super delegates had refused to declare their support for either candidate until the primaries were completed). He was the first African American to win the nomination of a major political party in the United States. For several days, Clinton refused to concede the race, although she signaled her presidential campaign was ending in a post-primary speech on June 3 in her home state of New York. She finally conceded the nomination to Obama on June 7. She pledged her full support to the presumptive nominee and vowed to do everything she could to help him get elected.
Not only was 2008 the first election since 1952 that neither the incumbent president nor the incumbent vice president was a candidate in the general election, but it was also the first time since the 1928 election that neither sought his party's nomination for president. Since term limits prevented Bush from seeking the nomination and being a candidate, the unique aspect was vice-president Cheney's decision not to seek the Republican nomination. This left the Republican field just as open to a wide field of new candidates as the Democratic field.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York (campaign)
Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin (campaign)
Immediately after the 2006 midterm elections, media pundits began speculating, like they did about the Democrats, about potential Republican candidates for President in 2008. In November 2006, Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led in the polls, followed closely by Arizona Senator John McCain. The media speculated that Giuliani's pro-choice stance on abortion and McCain's age and support of the unpopular Iraq War would be detriments to their candidacies. Giuliani remained the frontrunner in the polls throughout most of 2007, with McCain and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson fighting for second place. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Giuliani, Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul announced their candidacies on January 28, February 5, February 13, and March 12, respectively. McCain officially announced his candidacy on March 1, 2007, after several informal announcements. In the third quarter of 2007, the top four GOP (Republican) fundraisers were Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, and Ron Paul. MSNBC's Chuck Todd christened Giuliani and John McCain the front-runners after the second Republican presidential debate in early 2007.
Huckabee, after winning in Iowa, had little money and hoped for a third-place finish in New Hampshire. McCain eventually displaced Rudy Giuliani and Romney as the front-runner in New Hampshire. McCain staged a turnaround victory, having been written off by the pundits and polling in single digits less than a month before the race.
With the Republicans stripping Michigan and Florida of half their delegates for moving their primaries into January 2008 against party rules, the race for the nomination was based there. McCain meanwhile managed a small victory over Huckabee in South Carolina, setting him up for a larger and more important victory over Romney in Florida, which held a closed primary on January 29. By this time, after several scandals, no success in the early primaries, and a third place finish in Florida, Giuliani conceded from the nomination race and endorsed John McCain the next day.
In February, McCain, besides winning Giuliani's support, was endorsed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger before the California primary took place on Super Tuesday. This gave him a significant boost in the polls for the state's primary, which awarded the greatest number of delegates of all the states. On Super Tuesday, McCain won his home state of Arizona, taking all 53 delegates, and the largest of the Super Tuesday prizes, nearly all of California's 173 delegates. McCain also scored wins in seven other states, picking up 574 delegates. Huckabee was the "surprise performer", winning 5 states and 218 delegates. Romney won 7 states and 231 delegates. Two days later, Romney suspended his presidential campaign, saying that if he stayed in the race, he would "forestall the launch of a national campaign and be making it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win". His departure left Huckabee and Paul as McCain's only major challengers in the remaining primaries and caucuses. Romney endorsed McCain on February 14.
Louisiana, Washington, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Washington held primaries in February after Super Tuesday. Despite McCain picking up big victories, Huckabee won Louisiana and Kansas. McCain narrowly carried the Washington caucuses over Huckabee and Paul, who amassed a large showing. The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico closed February for the Republicans. After Super Tuesday, John McCain had become the clear front-runner, but by the end of February, he still had not acquired enough delegates to secure the nomination. In March, John McCain clinched the Republican nomination after sweeping all four primaries, Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island, putting him over the top of the 1,191 delegates required to win the GOP nomination. Mike Huckabee then conceded the race to McCain, leaving Ron Paul, who had just 16 delegates, as his only remaining opponent.
Along with the Democratic and Republican parties, three other parties nominated candidates with ballot access in enough states to win the minimum 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. These were the Constitution Party, the Green Party, and the Libertarian Party. In addition, independent candidate Ralph Nader ran his own campaign.
The Constitution Party nominated writer, pastor, and conservative talk show host Chuck Baldwin for President, and attorney Darrell Castle of Tennessee for Vice President. While campaigning, Baldwin voiced his opposition to the Iraq war, the Sixteenth Amendment, Roe v. Wade, the IRS, and the Federal Reserve.
The Green Party nominated former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia for President, and political activist Rosa Clemente from New York for Vice President. McKinney campaigned on a platform that supported single-payer universal health care, the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, reparations for African Americans, and the creation of a Department of Peace.
The Libertarian Party nominated former Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia for President, and his former rival for the Libertarian nomination Wayne Allyn Root of Nevada, for Vice President. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barr advocated a reworking or abolishment of the income tax and opposed the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act.
Attorney Ralph Nader of Connecticut (campaign)
Activist Brian Moore of Florida (Campaign)
The 2008 election campaign brought several firsts in United States presidential election history. It was the first presidential election since 1952 in which neither the incumbent president nor the incumbent vice president was a candidate in the general election. In addition, John McCain became the second oldest first-time presidential nominee in history when the Republicans nominated him in September 2008. His running mate, Sarah Palin, was the first woman nominated for Vice President by the Republican Party. Barack Obama and McCain are nearly 25 years apart in age. This is the largest age disparity between the two major party presidential candidates in history, surpassing Bill Clinton and Bob Dole (23 years apart in age), who ran against each other in 1996. The election would mark the first time that candidates from both major parties were born outside the continental United States with Barack Obama born in Hawaii and John McCain who was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Yet another first was that, for the first time in history, both major party nominees were sitting United States Senators.
One of the most talked about firsts in this election was Obama's possible, and then actual, nomination by the Democratic Party. On August 28, 2008, when Obama formally accepted the Democratic nomination for President, he became the first African American to be nominated for President by a major political party. Obama's nomination acceptance speech drew one of the largest attendances of any nomination acceptance speech, attracting at least 84,000 people. The television audiences for both McCain's and Obama's acceptance speeches broke records, according to Nielsen ratings.
The unpopular war in Iraq was a key issue during the campaign before the economic crisis. John McCain supported the war while Barack Obama opposed it. (Obama's early and strong opposition to the war helped him stand out against the other Democratic candidates during the primaries, as well as stand out to a war-weary electorate during the general campaign). Though McCain meant it as a peacetime presence like the United States maintained in Germany and Japan after World War II, his statement that the United States could be in Iraq for as much as the next 50 to 100 years would prove costly. Obama used it against him as part of his strategy to tie him to the unpopular President Bush.
John McCain's support for the troop 'surge' employed by General David Petraeus, which was one of several factors credited with improving the security situation in Iraq, may have boosted McCain's stance on the issue in voters' minds. McCain (who supported the invasion) argued that his support for the successful surge showed his superior judgment, whereas Obama (who opposed the surge) argued that his opposition to the invasion that preceded the surge showed his. However, Obama was quick to remind voters that there would have been no need for a "surge" had there been no war at all, which he then used to question McCain's judgment as well.
Entering 2008, George W. Bush was unpopular. Polls consistently showed that only twenty to thirty percent of the American public approved of his job performance. In March 2008, Bush endorsed McCain at the White House, but Bush did not make a single appearance for McCain during the campaign. Although he supported the war in Iraq, McCain made an effort to show that he had disagreed with Bush on many other key issues such as climate change. During the entire general election campaign, Obama countered by pointing out in ads and at numerous campaign rallies that McCain had claimed in an interview that he voted with Bush 90% of the time, and congressional voting records supported this for the years Bush was in office.
Before the Democratic primaries had even begun, the dichotomy of change versus experience had already become a common theme in the presidential campaign, with Senator Hillary Clinton positioning herself as the candidate with experience and Obama embracing the characterization as the candidate most able to bring change to Washington. Before the official launch of her campaign, aides for Clinton were already planning to position her as the 'change' candidate, as strategist Mark Penn made clear in an October 2006 memo titled "The Plan." In his presidential run announcement, Obama framed his candidacy by emphasizing that "Washington must change." In response to this, Clinton adopted her experience as a major campaign theme. By early and mid-2007, polls regularly found voters identifying Clinton as the more experienced candidate and Obama as the "fresh" or "new" candidate. Exit polls on Super Tuesday found that Obama won voters who thought that the ability to bring change was the most important quality in a candidate, who made up a majority of the Democratic electorate. By a margin of about 2-1, Clinton was able to make up for this deficiency by an almost total domination among voters who thought experience was the most important quality. These margins generally remained the same until Obama clinched the Democratic nomination on June 3.
John McCain quickly adopted similar campaign themes against Obama at the start of the general election campaign. Polls regularly found the general electorate as a whole divided more evenly between 'change' and 'experience' as candidate qualities than the Democratic primary electorate, which split in favor of 'change' by a nearly 2-1 margin. Advantages for McCain and Obama on experience and the ability to bring change, respectively, remained steady through the November 4 election. However, final pre-election polling found that voters considered Obama's inexperience less of an impediment than McCain's association with sitting President George W. Bush, an association which was rhetorically framed by the Obama campaign throughout the election season as "more of the same".
McCain appeared to undercut his line of attack by picking first-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Palin had been governor only since 2006, and before that had been a council member and mayor of Wasilla. Nonetheless, she excited much of the conservative base of the GOP with her speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention, a group that was initially lukewarm toward McCain's candidacy. However, media interviews suggested that Palin lacked knowledge on certain key issues, and they cast doubt among many voters about her qualifications to be Vice President or President. In addition, because of Palin's conservative views, there was also concern that, while she would bring conservatives to McCain, she would also alienate independents and moderates, two groups that pundits observed McCain would need to win the election.
Polls taken in the last few months of the presidential campaign and exit polls conducted on Election Day showed the economy as the top concern for voters. In the fall of 2008, many news sources were reporting that the economy was suffering its most serious downturn since the Great Depression. During this period, John McCain's election prospects fell with several politically costly comments about the economy.
On August 20, John McCain said in an interview with Politico that he was uncertain how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, owned; "I think — I'll have my staff get to you." Both on the stump and in Obama's political ad, "Seven", the gaffe was used to portray McCain as unable to relate to the concerns of ordinary Americans. This out-of-touch image was further cultivated when, on September 15, the day of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, at a morning rally in Jacksonville, Florida, McCain declared that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong," despite what he described as "tremendous turmoil in our financial markets and Wall Street." With the perception among voters to the contrary, the comment appeared to cost McCain politically.
On September 24, 2008, after the onset of the 2008 financial crisis, McCain announced that he was suspending his campaign to return to Washington to help craft a $700 billion bailout package for the troubled financial industry, and he stated that he would not debate Obama until Congress passed the bailout bill. Despite this decision, McCain was portrayed as not playing a significant role in the negotiations for the first version of the bill, which fell short of passage in the House. He eventually decided to attend the first presidential debate on September 26, despite Congress' lack of immediate action on the bill. His ineffectiveness in the negotiations and his reversal in decision to attend the debates were seized upon to portray McCain as erratic in his response to the economy. Days later, a second version of the original bailout bill was passed by both the House and Senate, with Obama, his vice presidential running mate Joe Biden, and McCain all voting for the measure.
All the aforementioned remarks and campaign issues hurt McCain's standing with voters. All these also occurred after the economic crisis and after McCain's poll numbers had started to fall. Although sound bites of all of these "missteps" were played repeatedly on national television, most pundits and analysts agree that the actual financial crisis and economic conditions caused McCain's large drop in support in mid-September and severely damaged his campaign.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced four debates:
Another debate was sponsored by the Columbia University political union and took place there on October 19. All candidates who could theoretically win the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election were invited, and Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and Chuck Baldwin agreed to attend. Amy Goodman, principal host of Democracy Now!, moderated. It was broadcast on cable by C-SPAN and on the Internet by Break-the-Matrix.
The reported cost of campaigning for president has increased significantly in recent years. One source reported that if the costs for both Democratic and Republican campaigns were added together (for the presidential primary election, general election, and the political conventions), the costs have more than doubled in only eight years ($448.9 million in 1996, $649.5 million in 2000, and $1.01 billion in 2004). In January 2007, Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael E. Toner estimated that the 2008 race would be a $1 billion election, and that to be taken seriously, a candidate would have needed to raise at least $100 million by the end of 2007.
Although he had said he would not be running for president, published reports in 2007 indicated that billionaire and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg had been considering a presidential bid as an independent with up to $1 billion of his own fortune to finance it. Bloomberg ultimately ended this speculation by unequivocally stating that he would not run. Had Bloomberg decided to run, he would not have needed to campaign in the primary elections or participate in the conventions, reducing both the necessary length and cost of his campaign.
With the increase in money expenditures, many candidates did not use the public financing system funded by the presidential election campaign fund checkoff. John McCain, Tom Tancredo, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden qualified for and elected to take public funds throughout the primary process. Major Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama chose not to participate in the public financing system.
Howard Dean collected large contributions through the Internet in his 2004 primary run. In 2008, candidates went even further to reach out to Internet users through their own sites and such sites as YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook. (See grassroots fundraising.)
Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama created a broad grassroots movement and a new method of campaigning by courting and mobilizing activists, donations, and voters through the Internet. It was part of a campaign that mobilized grassroots workers in every state. Obama also set fundraising records in more than one month by gaining support from a record-breaking number of individual small donors.
Anonymous and semi-anonymous smear campaigns, traditionally done with fliers and push calling, also spread to the Internet. Organizations specializing in the production and distribution of viral material, such as Brave New Films, emerged; such organizations have been said to be having a growing influence on American politics.
According to required campaign filings as reported by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), 148 candidates for all parties collectively raised $1,644,712,232 and spent $1,601,104,696 for the primary and general campaigns combined through November 24, 2008. The amounts raised and spent by the major candidates, according to the same source, were as follows:
|Candidate (Party)||Amount raised||Amount spent||Votes||Average spent per vote|
|Barack Obama (D)||$532,946,511||$513,557,218||69,498,215||$7.39|
|John McCain (R)||$379,006,485||$346,666,422||59,948,240||$5.78|
|Ralph Nader (I)||$4,496,180||$4,187,628||738,720||$5.67|
|Bob Barr (L)||$1,383,681||$1,345,202||523,713||$2.57|
|Chuck Baldwin (C)||$261,673||$234,309||199,437||$1.17|
|Cynthia McKinney (G)||$240,130||$238,968||161,680||$1.48|
|Excludes spending by independent expenditure concerns.
Source: Federal Election Commission
An October 17–20, 2008 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed among registered voters 2% said race made them more likely to vote for Barack Obama and 4% said it made them less likely to vote for Barack Obama. Those not sure how it swayed them were 2%, and race was not a major factor in the other 92% (margin of error was ± 2.9).
A July 18–21, 2008 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 20% of African American registered voters and 8% of White registered voters considered race the single most important factor when voting (margin of error was ± 3.1). This percentage increased in both groups from previous polls.
A June 6–9, 2008 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 17% were enthusiastic about Obama being the first African American President, 70% were comfortable or indifferent, and 13% had reservations or were uncomfortable (margin of error was ± 3.1).
Some pre-election controversies in the election revolved around challenges to voter registration lists, involving techniques such as caging lists alleged to constitute voter suppression.
Allegations of voter list purges using unlawful criteria caused controversy in at least six swing states: Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina. On October 5, 2008 the Republican Lt. Governor of Montana, John Bohlinger, accused the Montana Republican Party of vote caging to purge 6,000 voters from three counties which trend Democratic. Allegations arose in Michigan that the Republican Party planned to challenge the eligibility of voters based on lists of foreclosed homes. The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama filed a lawsuit challenging this. The House Judiciary Committee wrote to the Department of Justice requesting an investigation.
Virginia election authorities were ordered by a federal judge to preserve late-arriving absentee ballots sent by active-duty military personnel following a suit by the McCain campaign. It alleged that the state sent absentee ballots late to service members. According to federal law, absentee ballots must be mailed to troops in foreign countries at least 45 days before an election. The charge against Virginia was that the ballots were not printed until after the deadline and therefore were mailed late to soldiers abroad.
Guam's 173,000 residents are U.S. citizens, and must obey U.S. laws passed in Washington, yet they have neither a voting member of Congress, nor votes in the Electoral College. Since 1980, they have held a straw poll for president at the same time as the U.S. national elections. In 2007, Guam's legislature voted to move the straw poll up to September to draw attention to the choices of Guam's population and their continued disfranchisement, but the governor vetoed the bill. Obama won the 2008 Guam straw poll with 20,120 votes to McCain's 11,940.
Libertarian candidate Bob Barr filed a lawsuit in Texas to have Obama and McCain removed from the ballot in that state. His campaign alleged that both the candidates had missed the August 26 deadline to file, and were present on the ballot contrary to Texas election law. Neither candidate at the time of the deadline had been confirmed as the candidate for their respective parties. The Texas Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit without explanation.
In Ohio, identified by both parties as a key state, allegations surfaced from both Republicans and Democrats that individuals from out of state were moving to the state temporarily and attempting to vote despite not meeting the state's requirement of permanent residency for more than 29 days. The Franklin County Board of Elections referred 55 cases of possible voting irregularities to the local prosecutor. Three groups attracted particular notice: 'Vote from Home,' 'Vote Today Ohio,' and 'Drop Everything and Come to Ohio.' Vote from Home attracted the most attention when thirteen of the group's members moved to the same location in eastern Columbus. The group's members settled with Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien to have their challenged ballots withdrawn. The Obama campaign and others alleged that members of the McCain campaign had also voted without properly establishing residency. Since 1953, only six people in Ohio have gone to prison for illegal voting.
A controversy arose regarding Obama's contact with Bill Ayers, a Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a former leader of the Weather Underground, a radical left organization in the 1970s. Investigations by The New York Times, CNN, and other news organizations concluded that Obama does not have a close relationship with Ayers. Ayers served on two nonprofit boards with Obama. Both Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, hosted a gathering at their home in 1995, where Alice Palmer introduced Obama as her chosen successor in the Illinois State Senate.
The matter was initially raised by Sean Hannity and other hosts on conservative talk radio programs, and then by moderator George Stephanopoulos during a debate between Clinton and Obama in April 2008. In October 2008, the matter was mentioned in attack ads, robocalls, mass mailings, and campaign speeches by Republican presidential candidate John McCain and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as an issue in the general election campaign. Obama has condemned Ayers' past, and stated that he does not have a close association with him.
Significant criticism was leveled at media outlets' coverage of the presidential election season. At the February debate, Tim Russert of NBC News was criticized for what some perceived as disproportionately tough questioning of Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Among the questions, Russert had asked Clinton, but not Obama, to provide the name of the new Russian President (Dmitry Medvedev). This was later parodied on Saturday Night Live. In October 2007, liberal commentators accused Russert of harassing Clinton over the issue of supporting drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants.
On April 16, ABC News hosted a debate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos were criticized by viewers, bloggers and media critics for the poor quality of their questions. Many viewers said they considered some of the questions irrelevant when measured against the importance of the faltering economy or the Iraq war. Included in that category were continued questions about Obama’s former pastor, Senator Hillary Clinton’s assertion that she had to duck sniper fire in Bosnia more than a decade ago, and Senator Obama's not wearing an American flag pin. The moderators focused on campaign gaffes and some believed they focused too much on Obama. Stephanopoulos defended their performance, saying "Senator Obama was the front-runner" and the questions were "not inappropriate or irrelevant at all."
In an op-ed published on 2008 April 27 in The New York Times, Elizabeth Edwards wrote that the media covered much more of "the rancor of the campaign" and "amount of money spent" than "the candidates' priorities, policies and principles." Author Erica Jong commented that "our press has become a sea of triviality, meanness and irrelevant chatter."
The Project for Excellence in Journalism and Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy conducted a study of 5,374 media narratives and assertions about the presidential candidates from January 1 through March 9, 2008. The study found that Obama received 69% favorable coverage and Clinton received 67%, compared to only 43% favorable media coverage of McCain. Another study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University found the media coverage of Obama to be 72% negative from June 8 to July 21 compared to 57% negative for McCain. An October 29 study found 29% of stories about Obama to be negative, compared to 57% of stories about McCain being negative.
An October 22, 2008 Pew Research Center poll estimated 70% of registered voters believed journalists wanted Barack Obama to win the election, as opposed to 9% for John McCain. Another Pew survey, conducted after the election, found that 67% of voters thought that the press fairly covered Obama, versus 30% who viewed the coverage as unfair. Regarding McCain, 53% of voters viewed his press coverage as fair versus 44% who characterized it as unfair. Among affiliated Democrats, 83% believed the press fairly covered Obama; just 22% of Republicans thought the press was fair to McCain.
November 4, 2008 was Election Day in 50 states and the District of Columbia; it was the last of 21 consecutive election days in Oregon, which abolished the voting booth in 1998. The majority of states allowed early voting, with all states allowing some form of absentee voting. Voters cast votes for listed presidential candidates but were actually selecting their state's slate of Electoral College electors.
A McCain victory quickly became improbable as Obama amassed early wins in Illinois (his home state), the Northeast and the critical battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania by 9:20 PM. Obama won the entire Northeast by comfortable margins and the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota by double digits. McCain managed to hold on to traditionally Republican states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Oklahoma, and Wyoming and swept all the traditionally Republican Deep South states. Obama won the hotly contested states of Iowa and New Mexico, which Al Gore had won in 2000 and George W. Bush in 2004. CNN and Fox News called Virginia for Obama shortly before 11pm, leaving him only 50 electoral votes shy of victory with only six West Coast states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii) still voting. All American networks called the election in favor of Obama at 11:00 PM Eastern Standard Time as the polls closed on the West Coast. Obama was immediately declared the winner in California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii, McCain won Idaho, and the Electoral College totals were updated to 297 for Obama and 146 for McCain (270 are needed to win). McCain gave a concession speech half an hour later in his home state of Arizona. President-elect Obama appeared just before midnight Eastern Time on November 5 in Grant Park, Chicago, in front of a crowd of 250,000 people to deliver his victory speech.
Following Obama's speech, spontaneous street parties broke out in cities across the United States including Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles, Portland, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Madison, and New York City and around the world in London; Bonn; Berlin; Obama, Japan; Toronto; Rio de Janeiro; Sydney; and Nairobi.
Later on election night, after Obama was named the President-elect, he picked up several more wins in swing states in which the polls had shown a close race. These included Florida, Indiana, Virginia, and the western states of Colorado and Nevada. All of these states had been carried by Bush in 2004. North Carolina and the bellwether state of Missouri remained undecided for several days. Eventually Obama was declared the winner in North Carolina and McCain in Missouri, with Obama pulling out a rare win in Nebraska's 2nd congressional district. This put the projected electoral vote count at 365 for Obama and 173 for McCain. Obama's victories in the populous swing states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia contributed to his decisive win. The presidential electors cast their ballots for President and Vice President, and these Congress tallied these votes on January 8, 2009.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Running mate||Running mate's
|Barack Obama||Democratic||Illinois||69,456,897||52.92%||365||Joe Biden||Delaware||365|
|John McCain||Republican||Arizona||59,934,814||45.66%||173||Sarah Palin||Alaska||173|
|Ralph Nader||Independent||Connecticut||738,475||0.56%||0||Matt Gonzalez||California||0|
|Bob Barr||Libertarian||Georgia||523,686||0.40%||0||Wayne Allyn Root||Nevada||0|
|Chuck Baldwin||Constitution||Florida||199,314||0.15%||0||Darrell Castle||Tennessee||0|
|Cynthia McKinney||Green||Georgia||161,603||0.12%||0||Rosa Clemente||North Carolina||0|
|Needed to win||270||270|
The voter turnout for this election was broadly predicted to be high by American standards, and a record number of votes were cast. The final tally of total votes counted was 131.3 million, compared to 122.3 million in 2004 (which also boasted the highest record since 1968, after which the voting age was lowered to 18). Expressed as a percentage of eligible voters, 131.2 million votes could reflect a turnout as high as 63.0% of eligible voters, which would be the highest since 1960. This 63.0% turnout rate is based on an estimated eligible voter population of 208,323,000. Another estimate puts the eligible voter population at 212,720,027, resulting in a turnout rate of 61.7%, which would be the highest turnout rate since 1968.
American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate released a report on November 6, 2008, two days after the election, which concluded that the anticipated increase in turnout had failed to materialize. That report was the basis for some news articles that indicated voter turnout failed to meet expectations. When the remaining votes were counted after the release of the report, the total number of votes cast in the presidential election was raised to 131.2 million, which surpassed the American University report's preliminary estimate of 126.5 to 128.5 million voters by a factor of between 2% and 4%.
The election saw increased participation from African-Americans. African Americans made up 11.1% of the electorate in 2004, versus 13.0% in 2008. According to exit polls, over 95% of African Americans voted for Barack Obama. This played a critical role in southern states such as North Carolina. 74% of North Carolina's registered African American voters turned out, as opposed to 69% of North Carolinians in general, with Obama carrying an unprecedented 100% (with rounding) of African American females and African Americans age 18 to 29, according to exit polling. This was the case in Virginia as well where much higher turnout among African Americans propelled Obama to victory in the former Republican stronghold. Even in southern states where Obama was unsuccessful, such as Georgia and Mississippi, due to large African American turnout he was much more competitive than John Kerry in 2004.
This table records the official final state election board tallies for those presidential candidates who were listed on ballots in enough states to have a theoretical chance for a majority in the Electoral College. The first two columns contain the state name and its number of electors. Bold indicates statewide vote count winner in each state and winners in each electoral district of Maine and Nebraska, the only two states that apportion electoral votes by district. State popular vote results are from the official Federal Election Commission report. Four states, Georgia, Illinois, New York, and Ohio, have since amended the popular vote results. The updated Georgia results, Illinois results, New York results, and Ohio results are included here.
|States/districts won by Obama/Biden|
|States/districts won by McCain/Palin|
|District of Columbia||3||245,800||17,367||958||590||1,138|
|ME 1st Dist.||1||232,145||144,604||5,263||1,362||252|
|ME 2nd Dist.||1||189,778||150,669||5,373||1,538||179|
|NE 1st Dist.||1||121,468||148,179||1,970||929||1,019||393|
|NE 2nd Dist.||1||138,752||135,439||1,621||1,007||604||321|
|NE 3rd Dist.||1||73,099||169,361||1,815||804||1,349||314|
Popular vote by county. Red represents counties that went for McCain, Blue represents counties that went for Obama. Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont had all counties go to Obama. Oklahoma had all counties go to McCain.
Presidential popular votes by county as a scale from red/Republican to blue/Democratic.
Cartogram of popular vote with each county rescaled in proportion to its population. Deeper blue represents a Democratic majority, brighter red represents a Republican majority.
Voting shifts per county from the 2004 to the 2008 election. Darker blue indicates the county voted more Democratic. Darker red indicates the county voted more Republican.
Red font color denotes states won by Republican John McCain; blue denotes those won by Democrat Barack Obama.
States/districts where the margin of victory was under 5% (88 electoral votes):
States/districts where margin of victory was more than 5% but less than 10% (64 electoral votes):
|Presidential ticket||Party||Ballot access||Votes|
|Obama / Biden||Democratic||50+DC||69,456,897|
|McCain / Palin||Republican||50+DC||59,934,814|
|Nader / Gonzalez||Independent||45+DC||736,804|
|Barr / Root||Libertarian||45||524,524|
|Baldwin / Castle||Constitution||37||196,461|
|McKinney / Clemente||Green||32||161,195|
|Others — total||(see below)||226,908|
No other candidate had ballot access in enough states to win 270 electoral votes. All six candidates appeared on the ballot for a majority of the voters, while the 17 other listed candidates were available to no more than 30% of the voters.
The following nine candidates (and/or parties) had ballot listing and/or write-in status in more than one state:
The following candidates (parties) were listed on ballot in only one state:
In Nevada, 6,251 votes were cast for "None Of These Candidates". In the three states that officially keep track of "blank" votes for President, 103,193 votes were recorded as "blank". More than 100,000 write-in votes were cast and recorded for a scattering of other candidates, including 62 votes for "Santa Claus" (in ten states) and 11 votes for "Mickey Mouse"(in five states).
According to the Federal Election Commission, an unusually high number of "miscellaneous" write-ins were cast for president in 2008, including 112,554 tallied in the 17 states that record votes for non-listed candidates. There were more presidential candidates on the ballot than at any other time in U. S. history, except for the 1992 election, which also had 23 candidates listed in at least one state.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama is the first president to be born outside the continental United States. Obama, having a white mother and Kenyan father of the Luo ethnic group, became the first African American and the first bi-racial president. The Obama-Biden ticket was also the first winning ticket in American history on which neither candidate was a WASP; Biden is Roman Catholic and is the first Roman Catholic to be elected Vice President. Obama and Biden were the first President and Vice President elected from the Senate since 1960 (Kennedy/Johnson), and Obama was the first Democratic president since JFK who was not from the South.
Prior to the election, commentators discussed whether Senator Obama would be able to redraw the electoral map by winning states that had been voting for Republican candidates in recent decades. In many ways, he was successful. He won every region of the country by double digits except the South, which John McCain won by nine percent. Obama won Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia in the South (region as defined by the US Census Bureau). McCain won most of the Deep South, where white voters have in the last few decades supported Republican candidates by large margins. Obama also defied political bellwethers, becoming the first person to win the presidency while losing Missouri since 1956 and while losing Kentucky and Tennessee since 1960. He was the first Democrat to win the presidency without winning West Virginia since 1916 and the first Democrat to win without Arkansas since that state joined the Union in 1836. Obama's victories in Indiana and Virginia were also noteworthy. Both states voted for the Democratic nominee for the first time in the 11 elections since 1964. Although Obama did not win other normally Republican states such as Georgia and Montana (which were won by Bill Clinton in 1992), he nonetheless was competitive in both. He lost Montana by just under 3% and Georgia by slightly more than 5%. Also notably, Barack Obama won all of the 2004 swing states (states that either Kerry or Bush won by less than 5%) by a margin of 9 percent or more except for Ohio, which the Democrat carried by 4.5 percent.
Obama was the first presidential candidate to split the electoral votes from Nebraska. Together with Maine, which has not yet split its electoral votes, Nebraska is one of two states that split their electoral votes, two going to the statewide popular vote winner and the rest going to the winner of each respective congressional district (Nebraska has three, and Maine has two). Obama won the electoral vote from Nebraska's 2nd congressional district, which contains the city of Omaha. Nebraska's other four electoral votes went to John McCain.
This election exhibited the continuation of some of the polarization trends evident in the 2000 and 2004 elections. McCain won whites by 12 points, while Obama won blacks by 91 points, Hispanics by 36 points, and Asians by 27 points. Voters aged 18–29 voted for Obama by 66–32 percent while elderly voters backed McCain 53–45 percent.
The American presidential election was followed closely internationally. When it was clear that Obama was victorious, many world leaders sent congratulations and well wishes to the President-elect.