United States presidential election, 2008

United States presidential election, 2008
United States presidential election, 2008
United States
2004 ←
November 4, 2008
→ 2012

  Barack Obama.jpg John McCain official photo portrait-cropped-background edit.JPG
Nominee Barack Obama John McCain
Party Democratic Republican
Home state Illinois Arizona
Running mate Joe Biden Sarah Palin
Electoral vote 365 173
States carried 28 + DC + NE-02 22
Popular vote 69,456,897[1] 59,934,814[1]
Percentage 52.9%[1] 45.7%[1]


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.

President before election

George W. Bush

Elected President

Barack Obama

The United States presidential election of 2008 was the 56th quadrennial presidential election. It was held on November 4, 2008. Democrat Barack Obama, then the junior United States Senator from Illinois, defeated Republican John McCain, the senior U.S. Senator from Arizona. Obama received 365 electoral votes, and McCain 173. The popular vote was 69,456,897 to 59,934,814, respectively.

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.

There were several unique aspects of the 2008 election. The election was the first in which an African American was elected President, as well as the first presidential election in which an African American was nominated by a major party for the office of president. It was 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 — President George W. 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), and the second time a major party did so. The first time a major party nominated a woman for Vice President was when the Democratic Party nominated Geraldine Ferraro for that office in 1984. 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 and Obama received the most votes for a presidential candidate in American history.

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.

Along with the Democratic and Republican parties, three other parties nominated candidates with ballot access in enough states to theoretically 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.


In 2004, President George W. Bush 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,[2] 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.[3][4]

By September 2006, Bush's approval rating was below 40%,[5] 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.[6][7]


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 1848 (Lincoln's National Union Party, which won in 1864, was a short-lived coalition of Republicans and Northern Democrats rather than an independent party), although in 1912 former President Theodore Roosevelt, as candidate of the Progressive Party came in second by a wide margin.[8] 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 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.

Democratic Party nomination


Candidates gallery

Before the primaries

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.[9] Early polls taken before anyone had announced a candidacy had shown Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the most popular potential Democratic candidates.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] Clinton announced intentions to run in the Democratic primaries on January 20, 2007.[13] Obama announced his candidacy on February 10 in his home state of Illinois.[13] None of the candidates received a significant bounce in their poll numbers after their official announcements.[14] 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.[15]

"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".[16] Clinton led in nearly all nationwide opinion polling until January 2008.[15]

Comedian Stephen Colbert mounted his own campaign for the nomination in his home state of South Carolina, announcing it in October 2007.[17] Public Opinion Strategies conducted a poll and found Colbert nationally in fifth place at 2.3% behind Sen. Joseph Biden's 2.7% [18]

Early primaries/caucuses

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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] Obama's win was fueled mostly by first time caucus-goers and Independents and showed voters viewed him as the candidate of change.[21] Iowa is viewed as the state that jump-started Obama's campaign and set him on track to win the nomination and the presidency.[22] After the Iowa caucus, Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd withdrew from the nomination contest.[21]

Obama became the new front runner in New Hampshire when his poll numbers skyrocketed after his victory in Iowa.[23] 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."[24] 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.[25] Clinton won that 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.[23] 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.[26][27]

Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday occurred on February 5, 2008, during which the largest-ever number of simultaneous state primary elections was held.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30] In addition, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, endorsed Obama.[31] 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%.[32] Some analysts cited a large Latino turnout that voted for Clinton as the deciding factor.[33]

Barack Obama campaigns in Akron, Ohio on February 23, 2008

Louisiana, Nebraska, Hawaii, Wisconsin, U.S. Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia primaries and the Washington and Maine caucuses all took place after Super Tuesday in February. Obama won all of them, giving him ten consecutive victories after Super Tuesday.[34][35]

March and April contests

On March 4, Hillary Clinton carried Ohio and Rhode Island in the Democratic primaries; some considered these wins, especially Ohio, a surprise upset,[36] although she led in the polling averages in both states.[32][37] 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.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40] 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."[41] After Pennsylvania, Obama had a higher number of delegates and popular votes than Clinton did and was still in a stronger position to win the nomination. Clinton, however, had received the endorsement of more superdelegates than Obama.[39]

Indiana and North Carolina

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.[42] Polling had shown Obama a few points ahead in North Carolina and Clinton similarly leading in Indiana.[43][44] In the actual results, Obama outperformed the polls by several points in both states, winning by a significant margin in North Carolina[45] and losing by only 1.1% in Indiana (50.56% to 49.44%).[46] After these primaries, most pundits declared that it had become increasingly improbable, if not impossible, for Clinton to win the nomination.[47] The small win in Indiana barely kept her campaign alive for the next month.[48] 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.

Florida and Michigan

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.[49]

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.[50] 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.[51]

Clinching the nomination

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.[52] By May, Clinton claimed to hold a lead in the popular vote, but the Associated Press found her numbers accurate only in one close scenario.[53]

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).[54] He was the first African American to win the nomination of a major political party in the United States.[55] 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.[56] 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.[57]

Republican Party nomination

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.[58][59] This left the Republican field just as open to a wide field of new candidates as the Democratic field.


Candidates gallery

Before the primaries

Immediately after the 2006 midterm elections, media pundits began speculating, as they did about the Democrats, about potential Republican candidates for President in 2008.[10] In November 2006, Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led in the polls, followed closely by Arizona Senator John McCain.[60] 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.[10] Giuliani remained the frontrunner in the polls throughout most of 2007, with McCain and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson fighting for second place.[61] 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.[62][63][64][65] McCain officially announced his candidacy on March 1, 2007, after several informal announcements.[66] In the third quarter of 2007, the top four GOP (Republican) fundraisers were Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, and Ron Paul.[67] MSNBC's Chuck Todd christened Giuliani and John McCain the front runners after the second Republican presidential debate in early 2007.[68]

Early primaries/caucuses

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,[69] having been written off by the pundits and polling in single digits less than a month before the race.[70]

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,[71] setting him up for a larger and more important victory over Romney in Florida, which held a closed primary on January 29.[72] 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.[73]

Super Tuesday

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,[74] 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.[75] Huckabee was the "surprise performer", winning 5 states and 218 delegates.[75] Romney won 7 states and 231 delegates.[75] 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".[76] His departure left Huckabee and Paul as McCain's only major challengers in the remaining primaries and caucuses. Romney endorsed McCain on February 14.[77]

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.[35] 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.[37] Mike Huckabee then conceded the race to McCain, leaving Ron Paul, who had just 16 delegates, as his only remaining opponent.[78]

Other nominations

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.[79][80] While campaigning, Baldwin voiced his opposition to the Iraq war, the Sixteenth Amendment, Roe v. Wade, the IRS, and the Federal Reserve.[81]

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.[82]

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[83] and opposed the war in Iraq[84] and the Patriot Act.[85]

Candidates gallery

Party conventions

United States presidential election, 2008 is located in United States
Saint Paul
Kansas City
Sites of the 2008 National Party Conventions

General election campaign

Notable characteristics

John McCain and Sarah Palin onstage with Todd Palin, Cindy McCain and Robert Duvall in Albuquerque, New Mexico, September 6, 2008

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.[58][59] In addition, John McCain became the second oldest (after Bob Dole) first-time presidential nominee in history when the Republicans nominated him in September 2008[86] (Ronald Reagan was 73 years, 6 months in 1984, for his second presidential nomination). McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, was the first woman nominated for Vice President by the Republican Party.[86][87] 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.[88] Yet another first was that, for the first time in history, both major party nominees were sitting United States Senators.[89]

One of the most talked about firsts in this election was Obama's possible,[90][91][92] and then actual,[93][94][95] 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.[93] The television audiences for both McCain's and Obama's acceptance speeches broke records, according to Nielsen ratings.[96]



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,[97] 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.

Bush's unpopularity

George W. Bush had become increasingly unpopular by the beginning of 2008. Polls consistently showed that only twenty to thirty percent of the American public approved of his job performance.[98][99] In March 2008, Bush endorsed McCain at the White House,[100] but Bush did not make a single appearance for McCain during the campaign. Bush appeared at the 2008 GOP convention only through a live video broadcast. He chose not to appear in person due to disaster events in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. 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.[101]

Change vs. experience

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."[102] In his presidential run announcement, Obama framed his candidacy by emphasizing that "Washington must change."[103] In response to this, Clinton adopted her experience as a major campaign theme.[104] By early and mid-2007, polls regularly found voters identifying Clinton as the more experienced candidate and Obama as the "fresh" or "new" candidate.[105][106] 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.[107] These margins generally remained the same until Obama clinched the Democratic nomination on June 3.

Obama campaigning as a symbol of change in Cleveland, Ohio with a "Change We Need" sign

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.[108] 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,[109] 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.[110] 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.[111] 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.[112] Because of Palin's conservative views, there was also concern that she would alienate independents and moderates, two groups that pundits observed McCain would need to win the election.[113]

The economy

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.[114][115] In the fall of 2008, many news sources were reporting that the economy was suffering its most serious downturn since the Great Depression.[116] 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."[117] 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."[118] 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.[119] 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.[120][121]


The Commission on Presidential Debates announced four debates:[122]

  • September 26: The first presidential debate took place at the University of Mississippi. The central issues debated were supposed to be foreign policy and national security. However, due to the economic climate, some questions appeared on this topic. The debate was formatted into nine nine-minute segments, and the moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, introduced the topics.[123]
  • October 2: The vice-presidential debate was hosted at Washington University in St. Louis, and was moderated by Gwen Ifill of PBS.[124]
  • October 7: The second presidential debate took place at Belmont University. It was a town meeting format debate moderated by NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and addressed issues raised by members of the audience, particularly the economy.[125]
  • October 15: The third and final presidential debate was hosted at Hofstra University. It focused on domestic and economic policy. Like the first presidential debate, it was formatted into segments, with moderator Bob Schieffer introducing the topics.[125]

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.[126][127]

Campaign costs

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).[128] 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.[129]

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.[130] Bloomberg ultimately ended this speculation by unequivocally stating that he would not run.[131]

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,[132] Tom Tancredo,[133] John Edwards,[134] Chris Dodd,[135] and Joe Biden[136] 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.[137]

Internet campaigns

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.[138][139]

Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama created a broad popular 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.[140]

On December 16, 2007, Ron Paul collected $6 million, more money on a single day through Internet donations than any presidential candidate in US history.[141][142][143]

Anonymous and semi-anonymous smear campaigns, traditionally done with fliers and push calling, also spread to the Internet.[144] 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.[145]

Expense summary

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[146]


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).[147]

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.[148]

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).[149]


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.[150] 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.[151] Allegations arose in Michigan that the Republican Party planned to challenge the eligibility of voters based on lists of foreclosed homes.[152] 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.[153]

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.[154] 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.[155]

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.[156] 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,[156] but the governor vetoed the bill.[157] Obama won the 2008 Guam straw poll with 20,120 votes to McCain's 11,940.[158]

Libertarian candidate Bob Barr filed a lawsuit in Texas to have Obama and McCain removed from the ballot in that state.[159] 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.[160]

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.[161] 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. Members of the group organized by Marc Gustafson, including several Marshall and Rhodes scholars studying at Oxford University, settled with Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien to have their challenged ballots withdrawn.[162][163][164][165] The Obama campaign and others alleged that members of the McCain campaign had also voted without properly establishing residency.[161] Since 1953, only six people in Ohio have gone to prison for illegal voting.[166]

Ayers controversy

A controversy arose regarding Obama's contact with Bill Ayers, a Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a former leader of the Weather Underground, a radical left organization in the 1970s.[167] Investigations by The New York Times, CNN, and other news organizations concluded that Obama does not have a close relationship with Ayers.[168][169][170] Ayers served on two nonprofit boards with Obama. Both Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, hosted a gathering at their home in 1995,[171] where Alice Palmer introduced Obama as her chosen successor in the Illinois State Senate.[169][172]

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,[173][174] and stated that he does not have a close association with him.[171]

Allegations of media bias

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.[175] Among the questions, Russert had asked Clinton, but not Obama, to provide the name of the new Russian President (Dmitry Medvedev).[175] 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.[176]

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.[175][176] 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.[175] The moderators focused on campaign gaffes and some believed they focused too much on Obama.[176] Stephanopoulos defended their performance, saying "Senator Obama was the front-runner" and the questions were "not inappropriate or irrelevant at all."[175][176]

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."[177] Author Erica Jong commented that "our press has become a sea of triviality, meanness and irrelevant chatter."[178] A Gallup poll released on May 29, 2008 also estimated that more Americans felt the media was being harder on Hillary Clinton than they were towards Barack Obama.[179]

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.[180] 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.[181] An October 29 study found 29% of stories about Obama to be negative, compared to 57% of stories about McCain being negative.[182]

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.[183] 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.[184]

Election results

Final poll closing times on Election Day.
  7PM EST [00:00 UTC] (6)
  7:30PM EST [00:30 UTC] (3)
  8PM EST [01:00 UTC] (15+DC)
  8:30PM EST [01:30 UTC] (1)
  9PM EST [02:00 UTC] (15)
  10PM EST [03:00 UTC] (4)
  11PM EST [04:00 UTC] (5)
  1AM EST [06:00 UTC] (1)

Election Day

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.[185] 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 (which no Republican has ever been elected President without winning) and Pennsylvania by 9:20 PM.[186] 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, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Arizona (his home state). McCain, unlike Bush in 2000 and 2004, failed to receive all the southern states: Obama won Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. Obama also won the hotly contested states of Iowa and New Mexico, which Al Gore had won in 2000 and George W. Bush in 2004. Also, for only the second time since 1940 (1964 being the other), Indiana went Democratic. 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.[187] 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.[188]

Cartogram of the Electoral Votes for 2008 United States presidential election, each square representing one electoral vote. The map shows the impact of winning swing states. Nebraska, being one of two states that are not winner-take-all, for the first time had its votes split, with its second congressional district voting for Obama.

Following Obama's speech, spontaneous street parties broke out in cities across the United States including Philadelphia, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles, Portland, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Madison, and New York City[189] and around the world in London; Bonn; Berlin; Obama, Japan; Toronto; Rio de Janeiro; Sydney; and Nairobi.[190]

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 Congress tallied these votes on January 8, 2009.[191]

Nationwide results

Popular vote totals are from the official Federal Election Commission report. Congress certified the electoral vote totals on January 8, 2009.[191]

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote Electoral
Running mate
Count Pct Vice-presidential candidate Home state Elect. vote
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
Other 242,539 0.18% Other
Total 131,257,328 100% 538 538
Needed to win 270 270


The voter turnout for this election was broadly predicted to be high by American standards,[192][193][194] and a record number of votes were cast.[195] 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.[196][197] This 63.0% turnout rate is based on an estimated eligible voter population of 208,323,000.[197] 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.[198]

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.[196] That report was the basis for some news articles that indicated voter turnout failed to meet expectations.[199][200] 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.[201] 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 100% (with rounding) of African American females and African Americans age 18 to 29, according to exit polling.[202] This was the case in Virginia as well where much higher turnout among African Americans propelled Obama to victory in the former Republican stronghold.[203] 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.[204][205]

State results

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
State Electors Obama McCain Nader Barr Baldwin McKinney Others Obama % margin
Alabama 9 813,479 1,266,546 6,788 4,991 4,310 3,705 -21.58
Alaska 3 123,594 193,841 3,783 1,589 1,660 1,730 -21.54
Arizona 10 1,034,707 1,230,111 11,301 12,555 1,371 3,406 24 -8.48
Arkansas 6 422,310 638,017 12,882 4,776 4,023 3,470 1,139 -19.85
California 55 8,274,473 5,011,781 108,381 67,582 3,145 38,774 57,764 24.03
Colorado 9 1,288,576 1,073,589 13,350 10,897 6,233 2,822 5,894 8.95
Connecticut 7 997,772 629,428 19,162 311 90 29 22.37
Delaware 3 255,459 152,374 2,401 1,109 626 385 58 24.98
District of Columbia 3 245,800 17,367 958 590 1,138 85.92
Florida 27 4,282,074 4,045,624 28,124 17,218 7,915 2,887 6,902 2.81
Georgia 15 1,844,123 2,048,759 1,158 28,731 1,402 250 63 -5.20
Hawaii 4 325,871 120,566 3,825 1,314 1,013 979 45.26
Idaho 4 236,440 403,012 7,175 3,658 4,747 -25.30
Illinois 21 3,419,348 2,031,179 30,948 19,642 8,256 11,838 1,160 25.11
Indiana 11 1,374,039 1,345,648 909 29,257 1,024 87 90 1.03
Iowa 7 828,940 682,379 8,014 4,590 4,445 1,423 7,332 9.53
Kansas 6 514,765 699,655 10,527 6,706 4,148 35 36 -14.92
Kentucky 8 751,985 1,048,462 15,378 5,989 4,694 -16.22
Louisiana 9 782,989 1,148,275 6,997 2,581 9,187 10,732 -18.63
Maine 2* 421,923 295,273 10,636 251 177 2,900 431 17.32
ME 1st Dist. 1 232,145 144,604 5,263 1,362 252 22.82
ME 2nd Dist. 1 189,778 150,669 5,373 1,538 179 11.25
Maryland 10 1,629,467 959,862 14,713 9,842 3,760 4,747 9,205 25.44
Massachusetts 12 1,904,097 1,108,854 28,841 13,189 4,971 6,550 14,483 25.81
Michigan 17 2,872,579 2,048,639 33,085 23,716 14,685 8,892 170 16.44
Minnesota 10 1,573,354 1,275,409 30,152 9,174 6,787 5,174 10,319 10.24
Mississippi 6 554,662 724,597 4,011 2,529 2,551 1,034 481 -13.17
Missouri 11 1,441,911 1,445,814 17,813 11,386 8,201 80 -0.13
Montana 3 231,667 242,763 3,686 1,355 143 23 10,638 -2.38
Nebraska 2* 333,319 452,979 5,406 2,740 2,972 1,028 2,837 -14.93
NE 1st Dist. 1 121,468 148,179 1,970 929 1,019 393 -9.75
NE 2nd Dist. 1 138,752 135,439 1,621 1,007 604 321 1.19
NE 3rd Dist. 1 73,099 169,361 1,815 804 1,349 314 -39.01
Nevada 5 533,736 412,827 6,150 4,263 3,194 1,411 6,267 12.49
New Hampshire 4 384,826 316,534 3,503 2,217 226 40 3,624 9.61
New Jersey 15 2,215,422 1,613,207 21,298 8,441 3,956 3,636 2,277 15.53
New Mexico 5 472,422 346,832 5,327 2,428 1,597 1,552 15.13
New York 31 4,804,701 2,752,728 41,248 19,595 634 12,801 8,936 26.86
North Carolina 15 2,142,651 2,128,474 1,448 25,722 158 13,942 0.33
North Dakota 3 141,278 168,601 4,189 1,354 1,199 -8.65
Ohio 20 2,940,044 2,677,820 42,337 19,917 12,565 8,518 7,149 4.58
Oklahoma 7 502,496 960,165 -31.29
Oregon 7 1,037,291 738,475 18,614 7,635 7,693 4,543 13,613 16.35
Pennsylvania 21 3,276,363 2,655,885 42,977 19,912 1,092 10.31
Rhode Island 4 296,571 165,391 4,829 1,382 675 797 122 27.81
South Carolina 8 862,449 1,034,896 5,053 7,283 6,827 4,461 -8.98
South Dakota 3 170,924 203,054 4,267 1,835 1,895 -8.41
Tennessee 11 1,087,437 1,479,178 11,560 8,547 8,191 2,499 2,337 -15.06
Texas 34 3,528,633 4,479,328 5,440 56,116 5,395 831 2,781 -11.76
Utah 5 327,670 596,030 8,416 6,966 12,012 982 294 -28.02
Vermont 3 219,262 98,974 3,339 1,067 500 66 1,904 37.01
Virginia 13 1,959,532 1,725,005 11,483 11,067 7,474 2,344 6,355 6.30
Washington 11 1,750,848 1,229,216 29,489 12,728 9,432 3,819 1,346 17.08
West Virginia 5 303,857 397,466 7,219 2,465 2,355 89 -13.09
Wisconsin 10 1,677,211 1,262,393 17,605 8,858 5,072 4,216 8,062 13.90
Wyoming 3 82,868 164,958 2,525 1,594 1,192 1,521 -32.24
U.S. Total 538 69,498,215 59,948,240 738,720 523,713 199,437 161,680 226,979 7.26

Interpretive maps

Close states/districts

States/districts in the 2008 United States Presidential election where the margin of victory was less than 5%. Blue states/districts went for Obama, red for McCain. Yellow states were won by either candidate by 5% or more. Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and Iowa were won by Bush in 2004 but were won by Obama by a margin of more than 5% in 2008.

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):

  1. Missouri 0.14%
  2. North Carolina 0.32%
  3. Indiana 1.04%
  4. Nebraska's 2nd congressional district 1.19%
  5. Montana 2.25%
  6. Florida 2.82%
  7. Ohio 4.59%

States/districts where margin of victory was more than 5% but less than 10% (64 electoral votes):

  1. Georgia 5.21%
  2. Virginia 6.29%
  3. South Dakota 8.41%
  4. Arizona 8.52%
  5. North Dakota 8.63%
  6. Colorado 8.95%
  7. South Carolina 8.97%
  8. Iowa 9.54%
  9. New Hampshire 9.65%
  10. Pennsylvania 9.69%
  11. Nebraska's 1st congressional district 9.77%

States/districts where margin of victory was more than 10% but less than 15%:

  1. Minnesota 10.24%
  2. Texas 11.76%
  3. Nevada 12.5%
  4. West Virginia 12.69%
  5. Mississippi 13.18%
  6. Wisconsin 13.91%
  7. Kansas 14.93%

States/districts where margin of victory was more than 15% but less than 20%:

  1. Tennessee 15.06%
  2. New Mexico 15.13%
  3. New Jersey 15.57%
  4. Kentucky 16.22%
  5. Oregon 16.35%
  6. Michigan 16.45%
  7. Maine 17%
  8. Washington 17.17%
  9. Louisiana 18.63%
  10. Arkansas 19.86%

States/districts where margin of victory was more than 20% but less than 25%:

  1. Alaska 21.53%
  2. Alabama 21.58%
  3. Connecticut 22.37%
  4. California 24.06%

States/districts where margin of victory was more than 25% but less than 50%:

  1. Delaware 25.02%
  2. Illinois 25.12%
  3. Idaho 25.34%
  4. Maryland 25.45%
  5. Massachusetts 25.81%
  6. New York 26.85%
  7. Rhode Island 27.8%
  8. Utah 28.03%
  9. Oklahoma 31.3%
  10. Wyoming 32.24%
  11. Vermont 37.01%
  12. Hawaii 45.27%

Ballot access

Presidential ticket Party Ballot access[207] 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 37 199,314
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.[208]

The following nine candidates (and/or parties) had ballot listing and/or write-in status in more than one state:[209]

  • Alan Keyes (America's Independent Party) received 47,768 votes; listed in three states: Colorado and Florida, plus California (listed as American Independent), and also had write-in status in Kentucky, Ohio, Texas, and Utah.
  • Ron Paul received 41,905 votes; listed in Louisiana (Louisiana Taxpayers) and in Montana (Constitution), with write-in status in California.
  • Róger Calero (Socialist Workers Party) received 7,561 votes; listed in ten states. He was listed by name in Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. James Harris was listed as his stand-in in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, and Washington, and also had write-in status in California.
  • Brian Moore (Socialist Party, see Brian Moore presidential campaign, 2008) received 6,566 votes; listed in eight states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Jersey, Ohio, and Wisconsin, and Tennessee (independent) and Vermont (Liberty Union). He also filed for write-in status in 17 other states: Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
  • Gloria La Riva (Party for Socialism and Liberation) received 6,808 votes[210] nationally; listed in 12 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • Charles Jay (Boston Tea Party) received 2,420 votes; listed in Colorado and Florida, and in Tennessee (as independent), with write-in status in Arizona, Montana, and Utah.
  • Tom Stevens (Objectivist) received 755 votes; listed in Colorado and Florida.
  • Gene Amondson (Prohibition) received 653 votes; listed in Colorado, Florida, and Louisiana.
  • Jonathan Allen (HeartQuake) received 483 votes; listed only in Colorado, with write-in status in Arizona, Georgia, Montana, Texas, and other states.

The following candidates (parties) were listed on ballot in only one state:

  • Richard Duncan (Independent) - Ohio; 3,902 votes.
  • John Joseph Polachek (New Party) Illinois; 1,149 votes.
  • Frank McEnulty (New American Independent) - Colorado (listed as unaffiliated); 828 votes.
  • Jeffrey Wamboldt (We the People) - Wisconsin; 764 votes.
  • Jeffrey Boss (Vote Here Party) - New Jersey; 639 votes.
  • George Phillies - New Hampshire (also listed with the label Libertarian); 522 votes.
  • Ted Weill (Reform) - Mississippi; 481 votes.
  • Bradford Lyttle (U.S. Pacifist) - Colorado; 110 votes.

In Nevada, 6,251 votes were cast for "None Of These Candidates".[211] In the three states that officially keep track of "blank" votes for President, 103,193 votes were recorded as "blank".[212] 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).[213]

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.[214] 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,[215] became the first African American and the first bi-racial president.[216] 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.[217] Obama and Biden were the first President and Vice President elected from the Senate since 1960 (Kennedy/Johnson), Obama was the first Democratic president since JFK who was not from the South, and the Obama-Biden ticket was the first winning Democratic ticket to not feature a Southerner since 1940 (Roosevelt-Wallace).

Swing by state. States are listed by (increasing) percentage of Democratic votes, showing how the share of the vote changed between 2004 and 2008. Only five states trended more Republican: Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

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.[218] 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 supported Republican candidates by large margins in the last few decades.[219] 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.[220] 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.[221]

Obama received the most votes for a presidential candidate in American history.[222] It has been estimated that 96% of black voters voted for Obama.[223]

Certification of the electoral votes

On January 8, 2009, the joint session of the U.S. Congress, chaired by Vice President Cheney as President of the Senate and Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, announced and certified the votes of the Electoral College for the 2008 presidential election. The tellers were Chuck Schumer, Bob Bennett, Bob Brady, and Dan Lungren. From the electoral votes of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Vice President Cheney declared 365 electoral votes for both Barack Obama of the state of Illinois and Joseph Biden of the state of Delaware and 173 electoral votes for both John McCain of the state of Arizona and Sarah Palin of the state of Alaska. Based on the results of the electoral vote count, Vice President Cheney declared officially that Obama was elected as President of the United States and Biden was elected as Vice President of the United States.[224]

Over 25% of the electorate was of a race besides Caucasian, a first for America.[225]

International reaction

The American presidential election was followed closely internationally.[226] When it was clear that Obama was victorious, many world leaders sent congratulations and well wishes to the President-elect.[227]

Opinion polling

See also


  1. ^ a b c d http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/fe2008/2008presgeresults.pdf
  2. ^ Benedetto, Richard; Page, Susan (January 13, 2003). "Bush's job approval lowest since 9/11". USA TODAY. http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/2003-01-13-bush-poll_x.htm. 
  3. ^ "Katrina Response Hurts Bush Most". Political Wire. February 17, 2006. http://politicalwire.com/archives/2006/02/17/katrina_response_hurts_bush_most.html. [dead link]
  4. ^ Gonyea, Don (September 23, 2005). "Katrina Aftermath, Iraq Lower Support Ratings for Bush". NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4860458. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Historical Bush Approval Ratings". Hist.umn.edu. http://www.hist.umn.edu/~ruggles/Approval.htm. Retrieved January 24, 2009. 
  6. ^ Newport, Frank (April 11, 2008). "Bush Job Approval at 28%, Lowest of His Administration". Gallup. http://www.gallup.com/poll/106426/bush-job-approval-28-lowest-administration.aspx. Retrieved July 22, 2009. 
  7. ^ "National Job Approval: President George W. Bush". Pollster.com. http://www.pollster.com/polls/us/jobapproval-bush.php. Retrieved 2010-06-13. 
  8. ^ In 1864, Abraham Lincoln was nominated for President by the National Union Party, which was a temporary renaming of the Republican Party in order to also include those Democrats who supported Lincoln's handling of the Civil War.
  9. ^ Kuhnhenn, Jim (November 9, 2006). "Democrats win control of Congress". The Boston Globe. http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/11/09/democrats_win_control_of_congress/. Retrieved June 7, 2009. [dead link]
  10. ^ a b c Borger, Julian (November 11, 2006). "Now the real race begins...". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/nov/11/midterms2006.usa2. Retrieved June 7, 2009. 
  11. ^ Hughes, John (November 15, 2006). "With midterms over, all eyes turn to the 2008 presidential race". The Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1115/p09s01-cojh.html?s=widep. Retrieved June 7, 2009. 
  12. ^ Balz, Dan (December 29, 2006). "Edwards Formally Joins 2008 Presidential Race". The Washington Post. http://media.www.thestentor.com/media/storage/paper850/news/2007/02/15/Features/Tough.Choice.For.2008.Democratic.Nominee-2723783.shtml. Retrieved June 7, 2009. 
  13. ^ a b Taggert, Carlee (February 15, 2007). "Tough choice for 2008 Democratic nominee". The Stentor. http://media.www.thestentor.com/media/storage/paper850/news/2007/02/15/Features/Tough.Choice.For.2008.Democratic.Nominee-2723783.shtml. Retrieved June 7, 2009. 
  14. ^ Langer, Gary; Craighill, Peyton (January 21, 2007). "Clinton Leads '08 Dems; No Bounce for Obama". American Broadcasting Company. http://www.abcnews.go.com/Politics/PollVault/story?id=2810376. Retrieved June 7, 2009. 
  15. ^ a b "2008 National Democratic Presidential Primary". Pollster.com. http://www.pollster.com/polls/us/08-us-dem-pres-primary.php. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  16. ^ Balz, Dan (April 27, 2007). "Candidates Unite in Criticizing Bush". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/26/AR2007042602593.html. Retrieved September 15, 2008. 
  17. ^ Steinberg, Jaques (October 17, 2007). "Candidate Colbert". New York Times. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/candidate-colbert/?scp=2&sq=Stephen%20Colbert%20announces%20campaign&st=cse. Retrieved June 15, 2009. 
  18. ^ Chris Cillizza (October 22, 2008). "Poll Tries to Measure Colbert Effect". The Washington Post. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/eye-on-2008/the-colbert-effect.html. Retrieved June 15, 2009. 
  19. ^ Jones, Jeffrey (January 3, 2008). "Iowa, New Hampshire Results Often Shift National Preferences". Gallup. http://www.gallup.com/poll/103537/Iowa-New-Hampshire-Results-Often-Shift-National-Preferences.aspx. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  20. ^ "Florida, Michigan Primary Do-Overs?". CBS News. March 6, 2008. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/03/06/politics/main3912975.shtml. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  21. ^ a b c Crowley, Candy; Malveaux, Suzanne; Yellin, Jessica (January 4, 2008). "Obama wins Iowa as candidate for change". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/01/03/iowa.dems/index.html. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  22. ^ Steinhauser, Paul (April 22, 2009). "Back to where it began: Obama visits Iowa". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/04/22/obama.iowa/index.html. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  23. ^ a b "2008 New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary". Pollster.com. http://www.pollster.com/polls/nh/08-nh-dem-pres-primary.php. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  24. ^ Alberts, Sheldon (June 7, 2008). "Overconfidence, bad strategy doomed Clinton campaign". The Vancouver Sun. http://www2.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=5c4b296c-38e6-454d-9edf-3c03d67aa4bd. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  25. ^ Hannah Strange and Philippe Naughton (January 9, 2008). "Hillary Clinton: my teary moment won me New Hampshire". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/us_elections/article3160177.ece. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  See also: "Hillary tears up in New Hampshire Primary 2008" (Video). YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqGl-pDnYMQ. 
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  27. ^ Holland, Steve (January 30, 2008). ""Giuliani, Edwards quit White House Race"". Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN2964765820080131/. Retrieved January 30, 2008. 
  28. ^ Greene, Richard Allen (May 30, 2007). "States jostle for primary power". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6501241.stm. Retrieved September 15, 2008. 
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  30. ^ "LA rally — Full Video". YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZiNtTq10i0. 
  31. ^ "Maria Shriver endorses Obama". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/02/03/shriver.obama/. 
  32. ^ a b Nate Silver (August 11, 2008). "The Persistent Myth of the Bradley Effect". http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2008/08/persistent-myth-of-bradley-effect.html. 
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  34. ^ "Election Center 2008: Primary Results from Maine". CNN. February 10, 2008. http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/primaries/results/state/#ME. Retrieved March 14, 2008. 
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  38. ^ "Election Center 2008 Primaries and Caucuses: Results: Democratic Scorecard". CNN. (regularly updated). http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/primaries/results/scorecard/#D. 
  39. ^ a b Jensen, Kristin; Dodge, Catherine (April 23, 2008). "Clinton Wins Pennsylvania Vote; Obama Retains Control (Update6)". Bloomberg L.P.. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=asAZ87WefY6Y&refer=home. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  40. ^ Oinounou, Mosheh; Bruns, Aaron (April 12, 2008). "Obama on Guns and Religion: 'I Didn't Say It as Well as I Should Have'". Fox News. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/elections/2008/04/12/obama-on-guns-and-religion-i-didnt-say-it-as-well-as-i-should-have/. Retrieved June 8, 2009. [dead link]
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  42. ^ Schaper, David. "Looking Ahead to Indiana and N. Carolina Primaries". NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89967099. Retrieved January 24, 2009. 
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  44. ^ "Election 2008 - Indiana Democratic Primary". RealClearPolitics. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2008/president/in/indiana_democratic_primary-639.html. Retrieved January 24, 2009. 
  45. ^ "NC — Election Results". North Carolina State Board of Elections. May 7, 2008. http://results.enr.clarityelections.com/NC/1875/4822/en/summary.html. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  46. ^ "Indiana Primary Election, May 6, 2008". Indiana Secretary of State. August 22, 2008. http://www.in.gov/apps/sos/primary/sos_primary08. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
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Further reading

  • Plouffe, David. The Audacity to Win. 2009
  • Balz, Dan, and Haynes Johnson. The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election (2009), by leading reporters with inside information
  • Crotty, William. "Policy and Politics: The Bush Administration and the 2008 Presidential Election," Polity, July 2009, Vol. 41 Issue 3, pp 282-311
  • Curtis, Mark. Age of Obama: A Reporter's Journey With Clinton, McCain and Obama in the Making of the President in 2008 (2009)
  • Nelson, Michael. The Elections of 2008 (2009), factual summary except and text search
  • Sussman, Glen. "Choosing a New Direction: The Presidential Election of 2008," White House Studies, 2009, Vol. 9 Issue 1, pp 1-20
  • Wolffe, Richard. Renegade: The Making of a President (2010) excerpt and text search, narrative


  • Abramson, Paul R., John H. Aldrich, and David W. Rohde. Change and Continuity in the 2008 Elections (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Corwin E. Smidt and others. The Disappearing God Gap? Religion in the 2008 Presidential Election (Oxford University Press; 2010) 278 pages. Finds that the gap between church-attending traditionalists and other voters is not closing, as has been claimed, but is changing in significant ways; draws on survey data from voters who were interviewed in the spring of 2008 and then again after the election.
  • Crespino, Joseph. "The U.S. South and the 2008 Election," Southern Spaces (2008) online
  • Jessee, Stephen A. "Voter Ideology and Candidate Positioning in the 2008 Presidential Election," American Politics Research, March 2010, Vol. 38 Issue 2, pp 195-210
  • Kenski, Kate, Bruce W. Hardy, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election (Oxford University Press; 2010) 378 pages. Draws on interviews with key campaign advisors as well as the National Annenberg Election Survey. excerpt and text search
  • Sabato, Larry. The Year of Obama: How Barack Obama Won the White House (2009)
  • Todd, Chuck, and Sheldon Gawiser. How Barack Obama Won: A State-by-State Guide to the Historic 2008 Presidential Election (2009) excerpt and text search

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