2008 U.S. presidential election analysis

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Note: this pre-election analysis is being preserved for historical purposes.

The 2008 United States presidential election will take place on November 4, 2008. The two major tickets consist of Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin and Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Libertarian Bob Barr and independent Ralph Nader are also running, although not as prolifically in the media as Obama or McCain.

Key demographics

In order to win, both Obama and McCain will need to turn out voters in certain demographic groups.

For McCain

  • Evangelicals. The evangelical vote was critical in the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. While the evangelical community was lukewarm to McCain during the Republican primaries, the selection of conservative Sarah Palin as his running mate may help bring the evangelical vote out in greater numbers during the general election.
  • Veterans. McCain's military credentials, both as a war hero while he was a POW during the Vietnam War and as an advocate for the War in Iraq, have given him a strong backing from military families. McCain's ability to draw them to the polls could bolster him in blue collar states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

For Obama

  • African-Americans. During the Democratic primary, Obama was able to draw historic levels of African-Americans to the polls, contributing to his victories over Hillary Clinton in southern states and in Virginia. While Obama's strong showings among the black community are unlikely to turn the South blue, the influx of black Democratic voters may have consequences for GOP state and congressional elections down the ticket.
  • Youth. Obama's grassroots organization was conducive to drawing record numbers of young voters to his campaign during the primary season. If Obama is going to be able to counterbalance losses of blue collar and women voters in key states, he will have to be able to draw this notoriously unreliable demographic to the polls in record numbers.

For both

  • Women. Hillary Clinton's "18 million cracks" in the glass ceiling have brought the female vote to the forefront of the 2008 election. Democrats have historically led the female vote, but Obama's prolonged battle with Hillary Clinton damaged his standings with many women. The nomination of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice president could further impact Obama's standing among female voters. For either Obama or McCain to win they must secure this toss-up demographic.
  • White blue collar males. These voters are sometimes referred to as "Reagan Democrats" for their role in electing Reagan in 1980 and 1984, despite historically voting for Democrats since Franklin D. Roosevelt's time. Although Bill Clinton was able to win the presidency without winning them, their high numbers in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania make them a vital group for both candidates in the 2008 election.
  • Hispanics: Republicans have strong in-roads with the Hispanic vote. Bush captured the Hispanic vote in 2000 and 2004 and McCain's moderate immigration stance may win him some points within the community. Barack Obama's efforts in swaying their vote have diminished the margin somewhat, giving him a possible edge in momentum. Given their high populations in Western battleground states like New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado their role in the election will be more pronounced than previous cycles. A Democracy Corps poll from July 11 - August 3 [1] in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada showed Obama leading McCain by 45 percentage points, 69% - 24%.

Individual states

Certain states in which the vote has been historically close between the Democrats and the Republicans are called battleground states. Their unique demographic and electoral histories provide unique challenges to both candidates in capturing them.

The big three

  • Ohio: Ohio voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, but by very slim margins. The strength of blue collar workers in Ohio voted with Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary, giving McCain an opening by which he can hold this barely-red state. However, Obama may be able to galvanize Ohio's large youth and college population to off-set the blue collar vote to give himself a slim lead in the state. No matter what happens, this state will be close.
  • Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania's large blue collar population may also aid McCain here if he manages to secure that demographic. Unlike Ohio, Pennsylvania has the large cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh which Obama won overwhelmingly in the primaries despite losing the state at large. If Obama can turn out the African-American vote in the two cities and hold the more liberal suburban counties he may be able to eke out a slim victory here like John Kerry in 2004.
  • Florida: The center of controversy in the 2000 election, Bush managed to carry the state again in 2004. The lack of campaigning here by Obama during the primary, a large Cuban-American voter bloc opposed to his calls for talks with Fidel Castro, and an influential Jewish population uncomfortable with his Iran and Israel approaches will make it extraordinarily difficult for Obama to capture the state.


  • Nevada: Nevada is considered the most libertarian state in the United States, which allowed Bush to take its 5 electoral votes in 2000 and 2004 albeit by slimmer and slimmer margins. However, McCain faces serious challenges. During the primaries Ron Paul did extremely well in the rural counties, coming in second overall behind Mitt Romney. At the GOP state convention, Ron Paul supporters clashed with the GOP establishment over the state's allocation of delegates to John McCain, disaffecting many of them from the party. The Democrats, whose voters are concentrated in Reno and Las Vegas, registered more Democrats than Republicans during the primaries and benefit from the state's high Latino and union member populations. If those who voted for Ron Paul instead vote for the Libertarian candidate Bob Barr in the general election, McCain could end up losing this important bellwether for the West.
  • Virginia: Once safely Republican as part of the "Solid South", the state went for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary by a wide margin. The increasingly liberal northern part of the state, whose suburbs border Washington, D.C., played a key role in that victory. If Obama manages to bring those northern suburbs to the polls and draw out the African-American vote in record numbers, he could squeak out a victory here to capture Virginia's 13 electoral votes.