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2008 Election

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2008 Election

The 2008 Presidential Election was heralded as a historic moment in America as it produced America's first Black president. The Election was a matchup of two very different candidates with varying backgrounds and policy views. The 2008 election has been seen as a watershed moment in the history of race relations in America. During a time of economic instability, ongoing war, and threats of terror, the race for the White House offered Americans clear choices on how to address these issues. This article summarizes the results and examines the election's significance.

Important Events of the 2000s

After the contentious 2000 election, several events impacted the political landscape leading up to 2008. The 9/11 terrorist attacks resulted in unprecedented unity between the western superpowers such as Britain and America since World War Two. Military action in Afghanistan promptly occurred, and changes at home included increased airport security and reduced personal privacy. The War on Terror was broadened into Iraq by President George W. Bush in 2003 and the resulting casualties and scandals altered public opinion and Congressional actions. The Bush Administration's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the mounting financial crisis in 2008 caused many voters to question the course of US policies.

The financial crisis that emerged in America in 2008 was the worst on Wall Street since the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Originating with poor mortgage lending practices, the economic crisis that originated in investment banks in 2007 spread to the larger economy by 2008. The Bush response included significant actions by the US Treasury and measures by the Federal Reserve. A federal bailout of lenders and domestic corporations addressed the soon-to-be global crisis, known as the Great Recession in the US.

Candidates of the 2008 Election

Who were the candidates for the 2008 election?

The Republican Candidate

John McCain was a Senator from Arizona with a reputation for being a political "maverick." Willing to work with Democrats and Republicans, he often embraced unpopular issues with fervor and vocal determination. McCain's tenacity stemmed from his military service and harrowing experience. During the Vietnam War, the Naval Academy-educated fighter pilot was shot down over North Vietnam. Famously imprisoned and brutally tortured for five and a half years, McCain resumed military service after his release.

After retiring as a Navy Captain with over 20 years of service, the war hero entered Arizona politics first as a Representative and then as a long-serving Senator. He notably fought for campaign finance reforms and social rights in his Senate career and challenged tobacco and gun businesses. McCain unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2000 but was successful in 2008. John McCain chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential running mate.

The Democratic Candidate

Barack Obama was a prominent community organizer in Chicago's famed South Side. After law school, Barack Obama practiced law and lectured at the University of Chicago. A move into politics in the Illinois State Legislature progressed into a successful run for U.S. Senate. After less than four years as the junior Senator from Illinois, Obama ran for the Presidency.

He defeated opponents in the Democratic Primary, including Senator Hillary Clinton from New York and Senator Joe Biden from Delaware. The politician from Illinois was considered by many to be a powerful speaker and voice for new ideas and unity. Obama would go on to select Biden as his Vice-Presidential running mate.

Third-Party Candidates

Notable third-party candidates in the 2008 Presidential election included:

  • Ralph Nader – Independent

  • Bob Barr – Libertarian

  • Chuck Baldwin – Constitution

  • Cynthia McKinney – Green

Major 2008 Election Campaign Issues

  • The continued war in Iraq and America's role was a significant issue. Obama's Senate vote against the war was seen as strengthening his opposition.

  • The economy and government response to the financial crisis grew in concern as the economy moved toward recession.

  • Bush's relative unpopularity in national polls gave voice to a Democratic alternative as McCain was seen as being closer in policy to the outgoing president.

  • The age of candidates and potential for change was an undercurrent and one used by the Obama campaign to portray McCain's views as outdated successfully, which was used subtlely to attack the Republican candidate born in 1936.

  • An increasing share of Americans viewed universal health care promoted by the Democrats as necessary.

Excerpts from the candidates' first presidential debate:

It's well-known that I have not been elected Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate nor with the administration. I have opposed the president on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoners, on Guantanamo Bay. On the way that the Iraq War was conducted. I have a long record and the American people know me very well and that is independent and a maverick of the Senate and I'm happy to say that I've got a partner that's a good maverick along with me now."

—Senator McCain

Well, this is an area where Senator McCain and I have a fundamental difference because I think the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place. Now six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so because I said that not only did we not know how much it was going to cost, what our exit strategy might be, how it would affect our relationships around the world, and whether our intelligence was sound, but also because we hadn't finished the job in Afghanistan."

—Senator Obama

Results of the 2008 Election

Candidate
Party
Popular Vote
% of Popular Vote
Electoral Vote (270 needed)
✔Barack Obama
Democrat
69,499,428
52.86
365
John McCain
Republican
59,950,323
45.56
173
Ralph Nader
Independent
739,278
.56
0
Bob Barr
Libertarian
523,433
.40
0
other
multiple
761,243
.58
0
Chart of the 2008 Election results, StudySmarter.

Barack Obama's strong win in the popular vote underpinned his uncontested win with 365 electoral votes. The third-party candidates failed to gain significant support in this election.

Map of the 2008 Election

2008 presidential Election map showing electtoral vote won by Barack Obama and John McCain, Studysmarter

2008 Electoral College Results. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Demographics of the 2008 Presidential Election

The 2008 Election was a clear win for Barack Obama, who won many key demographics, including:

  • 89% of liberal voters
  • 60% of moderate voters
  • 89% of Democratic voters
  • 52% of independent voters
  • 95% of the black demographic
  • 67% of the Hispanic demographic
  • 63% of urban voters
  • 50 % of suburban voters
  • Other demographics won by Obama included: young; gay/lesbian; first-time; union.
  • Obama had strong wins in the Northeast, West, and Midwest.
John McCain won multiple demographics including:
  • 90% of Republicans
  • 78% of Conservatives
  • Voters 65+
  • White voters 30 years +
  • Veterans
  • Non-union households
  • Voters in the South
  • Rural voters

The Election of Obama in 2008

Senator Obama's win in November 2008 was seen by many as a success in the advancement of civil rights. While he was not the first African-American to run for President, Obama was the first to win the highest public office. Born of a black father and a white mother, Obama was extolled by most media outlets as a testament to America's success in overcoming racial prejudice. The candidate's forward-looking message of change for America's future resonated with a majority of voters.

Obama was the first Democratic candidate to win a majority of the popular vote since 1976, as Bill Clinton was unable to do so in 1992 and 1996. Winning both the popular and electoral votes solidified the victory and left little doubt about the success of Obama's candidacy.

Did you know? The 2008 presidential election was the first election since 1952 where neither of the main party candidates was president or vice-president.

2008 Election - Key Takeaways

  • Sen. John McCain, from Arizona, was the Republican candidate against the Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, from Illinois.
  • The 2008 presidential election occurred during economic instability and global terrorism.
  • Barack Obama was less experienced politically yet seen as a new voice in American politics with a unique message of change.
  • John Mc-Cain was well-experienced and considered a political maverick for his embrace of unpopular issues and willingness to cross party lines.
  • Obama won both the popular and electoral vote, winning the Presidency as the first black President in U.S. history.

Frequently Asked Questions about 2008 Election

The election of 2008 was necessary as the country was battling terrorism and an economic downturn.  Many point to the election of the country's first black President as historic. 

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 was Election Day in America. 

Hillary Clinton was narrowly beaten by Barack Obama in the Democratic Primary.

Barack Obama won 28 states in the 2008 election.

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain ran against Barack Obama in 2008. 

Final 2008 Election Quiz

Question

Who was the 2008 Democratic nominee?

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Answer

Barack Obama

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Question

Who was the 2008 Republican nominee?

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Answer

George W. Bush

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Question

What war was going on during the 2008 campaign?

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Answer

War in Iraq

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Question

John McCain's record on reform issues and taking unpopular stances earned him what characterization?

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Answer

freedom fighter

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Question

During the election, Barack Obama and John McCain were both....

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Answer

Senators

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Question

Obama's election in 2008 was controversial because he won the popular vote but not the electoral vote.

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Answer

False

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Question

Which factors greatly impacted the 2008 election?

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Answer

economic conditions

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Question

How could we characterize McCain's military service?

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Answer

U.S. Air Force pilot who narrowly evaded capture by enemy forces

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Question

Which campaign challenged the state of the economy and handling by the current administration?

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Answer

Obama

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Question

In the 2008 election, which demographic was won by Obama?

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Answer

union voters

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Question

Obama was a Senator from which state?

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Answer

Illinois

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Question

McCain was a Senator from which state?

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Answer

California

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Question

Obama's election victory was seen by many as a victory for race relations in America.

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Answer

True

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