2008 United States presidential election

2008 United States presidential election

This article is about the United States presidential election held in 2008. For information about other elections held within the United States in 2008, see United States elections, 2008.
United States presidential election, 2008
United States
2004 ←
November 4, 2008
→ 2012

All 538 electoral votes of the Electoral College
270 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout 61.6% (voting eligible)[1]
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 69,498,516[2] 59,948,323[2]
Percentage 52.9%[2] 45.7%[2]

Template:United States presidential election, 2008 imagemap

width="Template:Str number/trim" colspan=4 style="text-align: center" | 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 Tuesday, November 4, 2008. Democratic Party nominee Senator Barack Obama and running mate Senator Joe Biden defeated Republican Party nominee Senator John McCain and running mate Governor Sarah Palin.

McCain secured the Republican nomination by March 2008, but the Democratic nomination was marked by a sharp contest between Obama and initial presumptive nominee Senator Hillary Clinton, with Obama not securing the nomination until early June. Early campaigning had focused heavily on the Iraq War and the unpopularity of outgoing Republican President George W. Bush, but all candidates focused on domestic concerns as well, which grew more prominent as the economy experienced the worst recession since the 1930s and a major financial crisis that peaked in September 2008.

Obama would go on to win a decisive victory over McCain in both the electoral and popular vote; he received the largest percentage of the popular vote for a Democrat in nearly a half-century. Obama's successes in obtaining a major party's nomination and winning the general election were both firsts for an African American, and Clinton came closer to obtaining a major party's nomination for president than any previous female candidate.


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,[3] 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.[4][5]

By September 2006, Bush's approval rating was below 40%,[6] and in the November United States Congressional elections 2006, Democrats gained the majority in both houses. Bush's approval ratings dropped for the last two years in office to the 25–37% range.[7][8][9]


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, though most media and public focus is on the two major parties.

Each major 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, as well as 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

Main articles: Democratic Party (United States) presidential primaries, 2008 and 2008 Democratic National Convention


Main article: Democratic Party (United States) presidential candidates, 2008

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.[10] Early polls taken before anyone had announced a candidacy had shown Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the most popular potential Democratic candidates.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] Clinton announced intentions to run in the Democratic primaries on January 20, 2007.[14] Obama announced his candidacy on February 10 in his home state of Illinois.[14] None of the candidates received a significant bounce in their poll numbers after their official announcements.[15] 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.[16]

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

Comedian Stephen Colbert mounted his own campaign for the nomination in his home state of South Carolina, announcing it in October 2007.[18] Public Opinion Strategies conducted a poll and found Colbert nationally in fifth place at 2.3% behind Joe Biden's 2.7%.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22] Obama's win was fueled mostly by first time caucus-goers and Independents and showed voters viewed him as the candidate of change.[22] Iowa is viewed as the state that jump-started Obama's campaign and set him on track to win the nomination and the presidency.[23] After the Iowa caucus, Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd withdrew from the nomination contest.[22]

Obama became the new front runner in New Hampshire when his poll numbers skyrocketed after his victory in Iowa.[24] 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."[25] 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.[26] 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.[24] 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.[27][28]

Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday occurred on February 5, 2008, during which the largest-ever number of simultaneous state primary elections was held.[29] Super Tuesday ended up leaving the Democrats in a virtual tie, with Obama amassing 847 delegates to Clinton's 834 from the 23 states that held Democratic primaries.[30]

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.[31] In addition, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife at the time, Maria Shriver, endorsed Obama.[32] 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%.[33] Some analysts cited a large Latino turnout that voted for Clinton as the deciding factor.[34]

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.[35][36]

Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania

On March 4, Hillary Clinton carried Ohio and Rhode Island in the Democratic primaries; some considered these wins, especially Ohio, a surprise upset,[37] although she led in the polling averages in both states.[33][38] 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.[39]

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.[40] 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.[41] 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."[42] 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.[40]

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.[43] Polling had shown Obama a few points ahead in North Carolina and Clinton similarly leading in Indiana.[44][45] In the actual results, Obama outperformed the polls by several points in both states, winning by a significant margin in North Carolina[46] and losing by only 1.1% in Indiana (50.56% to 49.44%).[47] After these primaries, most pundits declared that it had become increasingly improbable, if not impossible, for Clinton to win the nomination.[48] The small win in Indiana barely kept her campaign alive for the next month.[49] 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.

Scandal surrounded the primary in Indiana because a Democratic State Committee member and county chair allegedly led a forgery ring to get all of the Democratic candidates on the ballot.[50]

All Democratic presidential candidates needed, under Indiana law, 500 signatures per congressional district. Owen "Butch" Morgan, Democrat county chair, congressional district chair, and State Committee member, was allegedly the leader. Congressional candidate Andrew Straw[51] called on Morgan to resign in May 2011 over inaccessibility of the Democratic headquarters in South Bend, but he resigned instead over the petition forgery indictment.[52][53] Straw is now the state chair of the Disability Party in Indiana.[54]

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.[55]

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.[56] 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.[57]

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.[58] 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.[59]

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).[60] He was the first African American to win the nomination of a major political party in the United States.[61] 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.[62] 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.[63]

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.[64][65] This left the Republican field just as open to a wide field of new candidates as the Democratic field.


Main article: Republican Party (United States) presidential candidates, 2008
  • John McCain, U.S. Senator from Arizona
  • Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts (withdrew on February 7, 2008 and endorsed John McCain)
  • Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas (withdrew on March 4, 2008 and endorsed John McCain)
  • Ron Paul, U.S. Representative from Texas (withdrew on June 12, 2008 and endorsed Chuck Baldwin)
  • John H. Cox, president of the Cook County, Illinois, Republican Party (withdrew on January 8, 2008)
  • Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City (withdrew on January 30, 2008 and endorsed John McCain)
  • Fred Thompson, former U.S. Senator from Tennessee (withdrew on January 22, 2008 and endorsed John McCain)
  • Alan Keyes, former U.S. ECOSOC Ambassador from Maryland (withdrew on April 15, 2008 to run for the Constitution Party nomination. After losing that nomination, he ran as the America's Independent Party nominee.)
  • Duncan Hunter, U.S. Representative from California (withdrew on January 19, 2008 and endorsed Mike Huckabee. He later endorsed John McCain)
  • Tom Tancredo, U.S. Representative from Colorado (withdrew on December 20, 2007 and endorsed Mitt Romney. He later endorsed John McCain)
  • Sam Brownback, U.S. Senator from Kansas (withdrew on October 18, 2007 and endorsed John McCain)
  • Jim Gilmore, former Governor of Virginia (withdrew on July 14, 2007 and endorsed John McCain)
  • Tommy Thompson, former Governor of Wisconsin (withdrew on August 12, 2007 and endorsed Rudy Giuliani. He later endorsed John McCain)

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.[11] In November 2006, Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led in the polls, followed closely by Arizona Senator John McCain.[66] 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.[11] Giuliani remained the frontrunner in the polls throughout most of 2007, with McCain and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson fighting for second place.[67] 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.[68][69][70][71] McCain officially announced his candidacy on March 1, 2007, after several informal announcements.[72] In the third quarter of 2007, the top four GOP (Republican) fundraisers were Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, and Ron Paul.[73] MSNBC's Chuck Todd christened Giuliani and John McCain the front runners after the second Republican presidential debate in early 2007.[74]

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,[75] having been written off by the pundits and polling in single digits less than a month before the race.[76]

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,[77] setting him up for a larger and more important victory over Romney in Florida, which held a closed primary on January 29.[78] 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.[79]

Super Tuesday

McCain was also endorsed in February 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,[80] 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. He also won nearly all of California's 173 delegates, the largest of the Super Tuesday prizes. McCain also scored wins in seven other states, picking up 574 delegates.[81] Huckabee was the "surprise performer", winning 5 states and 218 delegates.[81] Romney won 7 states and 231 delegates.[81] 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".[82] His departure left Huckabee and Paul as McCain's only major challengers in the remaining primaries and caucuses. Romney endorsed McCain on February 14.[83]

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.[36] 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.[38] Mike Huckabee then conceded the race to McCain, leaving Ron Paul, who had just 16 delegates, as his only remaining opponent.[84]

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.[85][86] While campaigning, Baldwin voiced his opposition to the Iraq war, the Sixteenth Amendment, Roe v. Wade, the IRS, and the Federal Reserve.[87]

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.[88]

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[89] and opposed the war in Iraq[90] and the Patriot Act.[91]

Candidates gallery

Party conventions

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Saint Paul
Kansas City
Sites of the 2008 National Party Conventions

General election campaign

An issue in the election was Obama's possible,[92][93][94] and then actual,[95][96] 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.[95] The television audiences for both McCain's and Obama's acceptance speeches broke records, according to Nielsen ratings.[97]



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,[98] 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. However, Obama was quick to remind voters that there would have been no need for a "surge" had there been no war at all, thus questioning McCain's judgment.

Bush's unpopularity

George W. Bush had become increasingly unpopular by the beginning of 2008. Polls consistently showed that about 30 percent of the American public approved of his job performance.[7][99][100] In March 2008, Bush endorsed McCain at the White House,[101] 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 Gustav. 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.[102]

Change vs. experience

Before the Democratic primaries began, 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."[103] In his presidential run announcement, Obama framed his candidacy by emphasizing that "Washington must change."[104] In response to this, Clinton adopted her experience as a major campaign theme.[105] By early and mid-2007, polls regularly found voters identifying Clinton as the more experienced candidate and Obama as the "fresh" or "new" candidate.[106][107] 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.[108] These margins generally remained the same until Obama clinched the Democratic nomination on June 3.

Obama's promised "universal health care, full employment, a green America, and an America respected instead of feared by its enemies".[109] He used new media to "form a bond with his supporters" which helped him "appeal to the youth audience's need to feel special, in-the-know, empowered and special". This was best displayed in his text message announcement of Joe Biden as the vice-presidential candidate.[110] He has also declared, in his book The Audacity of Hope, that he did not experience a religious upbringing. Rather he developed his faith due to the church's ability to motivate social change.[111] Bowdern wrote, "This is best exemplified in his "50 state strategy", where he campaigned in states that historically would never vote for a Democrat. The 2008 presidential election saw a large youth turn out, up to 51%."[112]

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.[113] 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,[114] 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.[115] 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.[116] 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.[117] 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.[118]


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.[119][120] In the fall of 2008, many news sources were reporting that the economy was suffering its most serious downturn since the Great Depression.[121] 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."[122] 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."[123] 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.[124] 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 (Hillary Clinton would as well).[125]

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, many pundits and analysts say that the actual financial crisis and economic conditions caused McCain's large drop in support in mid-September and severely damaged his campaign.[126][127]

Health care

John McCain's proposals focused on open-market competition rather than government funding or control. At the heart of his plan were tax credits – $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families who do not subscribe to or do not have access to health care through their employer. To help people who are denied coverage by insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions, McCain proposed working with states to create what he calls a "Guaranteed Access Plan".[128]

Barack Obama called for universal health care. His health care plan proposed creating a National Health Insurance Exchange that would include both private insurance plans and a Medicare-like government run option. Coverage would be guaranteed regardless of health status, and premiums would not vary based on health status either. It would have required parents to cover their children, but did not require adults to buy insurance.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the two plans had different philosophical focuses. They described the purpose of the McCain plan as to "make insurance more affordable," while the purpose of the Obama plan was for "more people to have health insurance."[129] The Des Moines Register characterized the plans similarly.[130] The Commonwealth Fund concluded that, compared with McCain's approach, Obama's plan could provide more people with affordable health insurance that covers essential services, achieve greater equity in access to care, realize efficiencies and cost savings in the provision of coverage and delivery of care, and redirect incentives to improve quality.[131]

Critics of McCain's plan argued that it would not significantly reduce the number of uninsured Americans, would increase costs, reduce consumer protections and lead to less generous benefit packages.[132] Critics of Obama's plan argued that it would increase federal regulation of private health insurance without addressing the underlying incentives behind rising health care spending.[133][134] Mark Pauly suggested that a combination of the two approaches would work better than either one alone.[135]

Various analyses of the two candidates' plans came to widely varying predictions of their costs and effects. A comparison by The Tax Policy Center, a project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute estimated that Obama's proposals could cost $1.6 trillion over 10 years, while the tax-related provisions of McCain's proposals could cost $1.3 trillion over the same period. A comparison by The Lewin Group, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, published in October 2008, found that the McCain plan would reduce the number of uninsured by 21.1 million and cost $2.05 trillion over 10 years, while the Obama plan would reduce the uninsured by 26.6 million and increase federal spending by $1.17 trillion over the same period.[136] Estimates prepared by HSI Networks found that the McCain plan would reduce the uninsured by 27.5 million at an annual cost of $287 billion,[137] and the Obama plan would reduce the uninsured by 25.5 million at an annual cost of $452 billion.[138]

A poll released in early November, 2008, found that voters supporting Obama listed health care as their second priority; voters supporting McCain listed it as fourth, tied with the war in Iraq. Affordability was the primary health care priority among both sets of voters. Obama voters were more likely than McCain voters to believe government can do much about health care costs.[139]


In an October 17–20, 2008, NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of registered voters, 2% said race made them more likely to vote for Barack Obama, 4% said it made them less likely to do so, and 2% were not sure. The other 92% of respondents said race was not a major factor in their vote. (margin of error was ±2.9%).[140]

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.[141]

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%).[142]

Obama generally avoided racial issues in his campaign. He would often place white people behind him when in a hall speaking to a large black group in order to avoid racial imagery.[143] On June 11, 2008, Fox News Channel used the phrase "Outraged liberals: Stop picking on Obama's baby mama" in an on screen graphic in a discussion as to whether U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, was being unfairly criticized. A senior vice president of programming at Fox said in a statement that a producer "exercised poor judgment" during the segment.[144] There were also attempts to interpret a fist tap as either a racial move, or a "terrorist fist jab".[145]


The Commission on Presidential Debates announced four debates:[146]

  • 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.[147]
  • October 2: The vice-presidential debate was hosted at Washington University in St. Louis, and was moderated by Gwen Ifill of PBS.[148]
  • 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.[149]
  • 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.[149]

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.[150]

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).[151] 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.[152]

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.[153] Bloomberg ultimately ended this speculation by unequivocally stating that he would not run.[154]

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,[155] Tom Tancredo,[156] John Edwards,[157] Chris Dodd,[158] and Joe Biden[159] 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.[160]

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.[161][162]

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.[163]

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.[164][165][166]

Anonymous and semi-anonymous smear campaigns, traditionally done with fliers and push calling, also spread to the Internet.[167] 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.[168]

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) $778,642,962 $760,370,195 69,498,516 $10.94
John McCain (R) $379,006,485 $346,666,422 59,948,323 $5.78
Ralph Nader (I) $4,496,180 $4,187,628 739,034 $5.67
Bob Barr (L) $1,383,681 $1,345,202 523,715 $2.57
Chuck Baldwin (C) $261,673 $234,309 199,750 $1.17
Cynthia McKinney (G) $240,130 $238,968 161,797 $1.48
Excludes spending by independent expenditure concerns.
Source: Federal Election Commission[169]

Notable expressions and phrases

  • Yes We Can
  • That One
  • Lipstick on a pig: Obama used this phrase to insinuate that any changes that McCain was advocating from the policies of George W. Bush would only be slight modifications of Bush's policies but the underlying policies would be the same, and in Obama's opinion, bad. Republicans called it sexism because Sarah Palin cracked a joke during the Republican convention that the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick.[170]
  • The Mac is Back: McCain used this phrase after his comeback in the polls shortly before the New Hampshire primary, which he won.


Voter suppression

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.[171] 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.[172] Allegations arose in Michigan that the Republican Party planned to challenge the eligibility of voters based on lists of foreclosed homes.[173] 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.[174]

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.[175] 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.[176]

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.[177] 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,[177] but the governor vetoed the bill.[178] Obama won the 2008 Guam straw poll with 20,120 votes to McCain's 11,940.[179]

Libertarian candidate Bob Barr filed a lawsuit in Texas to have Obama and McCain removed from the ballot in that state.[180] 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.[181]

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.[182] 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.[183][184][185][186] The Obama campaign and others alleged that members of the McCain campaign had also voted without properly establishing residency.[182] Since 1953, only six people in Ohio have gone to prison for illegal voting.[187]

Media bias

Republicans leveled significant criticism at media outlets' coverage of the presidential election season. 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.[188] 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.[189]

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.[190] Among the questions, Russert had asked Clinton, but not Obama, to provide the name of the new Russian President (Dmitry Medvedev).[190] 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.[191]

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.[190][191] 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.[190] The moderators focused on campaign gaffes and some believed they focused too much on Obama.[191] Stephanopoulos defended their performance, saying "Senator Obama was the front-runner" and the questions were "not inappropriate or irrelevant at all."[190][191]

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."[192] Author Erica Jong commented that "our press has become a sea of triviality, meanness and irrelevant chatter."[193] 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.[194]

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.[195] 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.[196] An October 29 study found 29% of stories about Obama to be negative, compared to 57% of stories about McCain being negative.[197]


Election Day was on November 4, 2008. The majority of states allowed early voting, with all states allowing some form of absentee voting.[198] Voters cast votes for listed presidential candidates but were actually selecting representatives for their state's Electoral College slate.

A McCain victory quickly became improbable as Obama amassed early wins in his home state of Illinois, 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, Eastern Standard Time.[199] Obama won the entire Northeast by comfortable margins and the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota by double digits. McCain held on to traditionally Republican states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and his home state of Arizona. McCain, unlike Bush in 2000 and 2004, failed to win 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, giving Obama all eight Great Lakes states, the first time a presidential candidate had won all of them since Richard Nixon in 1972.

CNN and Fox News called Virginia for Obama shortly before 11:00 PM, 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 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 hometown of Phoenix, Arizona.[200] Obama appeared just before midnight Eastern Time in Grant Park, Chicago, in front of a crowd of 250,000 people to deliver his victory speech.[201]

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[202] and around the world in London; Bonn; Berlin; Obama, Japan; Toronto; Rio de Janeiro; Sydney; and Nairobi.[203]

Later on election night, after Obama was named the winner, 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.[204]


The voter turnout for this election was broadly predicted to be high by American standards,[205][206] and a record number of votes were cast.[207] 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, the last presidential election before 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.[208][209] This 63.0% turnout rate is based on an estimated eligible voter population of 208,323,000.[209] Another estimate puts the eligible voter population at 213,313,508, resulting in a turnout rate of 61.6%, which would be the highest turnout rate since 1968.[210]

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.[208] That report was the basis for some news articles that indicated voter turnout failed to meet expectations.[211][212] 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, who made up 11.1% of the electorate in 2004, versus 13.0% in 2008.[213] According to exit polls, over 95% of African Americans voted for 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.[214] This was the case in Virginia as well where much higher turnout among African Americans propelled Obama to victory in the former Republican stronghold.[215] 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.[216][217]

Ballot access

Presidential ticket Party Ballot access[218] Votes
Obama / Biden Democratic 50+DC 69,498,516
McCain / Palin Republican 50+DC 59,948,323
Nader / Gonzalez Independent 45+DC 739,034
Barr / Root Libertarian 45 523,715
Baldwin / Castle Constitution 37 199,750
McKinney / Clemente Green 32 + DC 161,797
Others—total (see below) 242,685

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.[219]

The following candidates (and/or parties) had ballot listing and/or write-in status in more than one state:[220]

  • Alan Keyes (America's Independent Party) received 47,746 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 42,426 votes; listed in Louisiana (Louisiana Taxpayers) and in Montana (Constitution), with write-in status in California.
  • Gloria La Riva (Party for Socialism and Liberation) received 6,808 votes[221] nationally; listed in 12 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • Brian Moore (Socialist Party, see Brian Moore presidential campaign, 2008) received 6,538 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.
  • Róger Calero (Socialist Workers Party) received 5,151 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.
  • Charles Jay (Boston Tea Party) received 2,422 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 the ballot in only one state:

  • Richard Duncan (Independent) – Ohio; 3,905 votes.
  • John Joseph Polachek (New Party) Illinois; 1,149 votes.
  • Frank McEnulty (New American Independent) – Colorado (listed as unaffiliated); 829 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); 531 votes.
  • Ted Weill (Reform) – Mississippi; 481 votes.
  • Bradford Lyttle (U.S. Pacifist) – Colorado; 110 votes.

In Nevada, 6,267 votes were cast for "None Of These Candidates".[222] In the three states that officially keep track of "blank" votes for President, 103,193 votes were recorded as "blank".[223] 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).[224]

According to the Federal Election Commission, an unusually high number of "miscellaneous" write-ins were cast for president in 2008, including 112,597 tallied in the 17 states that record votes for non-listed candidates.[225] 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.


Popular vote totals are from the

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote Electoral
Running mate
Count Pct Vice-presidential candidate Home state Elect. vote
Barack Obama Democratic Illinois 69,498,516 52.93% 365 Joe Biden Delaware 365
John McCain Republican Arizona 59,948,323 45.65% 173 Sarah Palin Alaska 173
Ralph Nader Independent Connecticut 739,034 0.56% 0 Matt Gonzalez California 0
Bob Barr Libertarian Georgia 523,715 0.40% 0 Wayne Allyn Root Nevada 0
Chuck Baldwin Constitution Florida 199,750 0.15% 0 Darrell Castle Tennessee 0
Cynthia McKinney Green Georgia 161,797 0.12% 0 Rosa Clemente North Carolina 0
Other 242,685 0.18% Other
Total 131,313,820 100% 538 538
Needed to win 270 270
Popular vote
Electoral vote

Votes by state

The following table records the official vote tallies for each state for those presidential candidates who were listed on ballots in enough states to have a theoretical chance for a majority in the Electoral College. State popular vote results are from the official Federal Election Commission report. The column labeled "Margin" shows Obama's margin of victory over McCain (the margin is negative for states and districts won by McCain).

States/districts won by Obama/Biden
States/districts won by McCain/Palin
State Electors Obama % McCain % Nader % Barr % Baldwin % McKinney % Other % Margin % Total
Alabama 9 813,479 38.74% 1,266,546 60.32% 6,788 0.32% 4,991 0.24% 4,310 0.21% 0 0.00% 3,705 0.18% −453,067 −21.58% 2,099,819
Alaska 3 123,594 37.89% 193,841 59.42% 3,783 1.16% 1,589 0.49% 1,660 0.51% 0 0.00% 1,730 0.53% −70,247 −21.54% 326,197
Arizona 10 1,034,707 45.12% 1,230,111 53.64% 11,301 0.49% 12,555 0.55% 1,371 0.06% 3,406 0.15% 24 0.00% −195,404 −8.52% 2,293,475
Arkansas 6 422,310 38.86% 638,017 58.72% 12,882 1.19% 4,776 0.44% 4,023 0.37% 3,470 0.32% 1,139 0.10% −215,707 −19.85% 1,086,617
California 55 8,274,473 61.01% 5,011,781 36.95% 108,381 0.80% 67,582 0.50% 3,145 0.02% 38,774 0.29% 57,764 0.43% 3,262,692 24.06% 13,561,900
Colorado 9 1,288,633 53.66% 1,073,629 44.71% 13,352 0.56% 10,898 0.45% 6,233 0.26% 2,822 0.12% 5,895 0.25% 215,004 8.95% 2,401,462
Connecticut 7 997,772 60.59% 629,428 38.22% 19,162 1.16% 0 0.00% 311 0.02% 90 0.01% 34 0.00% 368,344 22.37% 1,646,797
Delaware 3 255,459 61.94% 152,374 36.95% 2,401 0.58% 1,109 0.27% 626 0.15% 385 0.09% 58 0.01% 103,085 25.00% 412,412
District of Columbia 3 245,800 92.46% 17,367 6.53% 958 0.36% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 590 0.22% 1,138 0.43% 228,433 85.92% 265,853
Florida 27 4,282,074 51.03% 4,045,624 48.22% 28,124 0.34% 17,218 0.21% 7,915 0.09% 2,887 0.03% 6,902 0.08% 236,450 2.82% 8,390,744
Georgia 15 1,844,123 46.99% 2,048,759 52.20% 1,158 0.03% 28,731 0.73% 1,402 0.04% 250 0.01% 63 0.00% −204,636 −5.21% 3,924,486
Hawaii 4 325,871 71.85% 120,566 26.58% 3,825 0.84% 1,314 0.29% 1,013 0.22% 979 0.22% 0 0.00% 205,305 45.26% 453,568
Idaho 4 236,440 36.09% 403,012 61.52% 7,175 1.10% 3,658 0.56% 4,747 0.72% 39 0.01% 51 0.01% −166,572 −25.43% 655,122
Illinois 21 3,419,348 61.92% 2,031,179 36.78% 30,948 0.56% 19,642 0.36% 8,256 0.15% 11,838 0.21% 1,160 0.02% 1,388,169 25.14% 5,522,371
Indiana 11 1,374,039 49.95% 1,345,648 48.91% 909 0.03% 29,257 1.06% 1,024 0.04% 87 0.00% 90 0.00% 28,391 1.03% 2,751,054
Iowa 7 828,940 53.93% 682,379 44.39% 8,014 0.52% 4,590 0.30% 4,445 0.29% 1,423 0.09% 7,332 0.48% 146,561 9.53% 1,537,123
Kansas 6 514,765 41.65% 699,655 56.61% 10,527 0.85% 6,706 0.54% 4,148 0.34% 35 0.00% 36 0.00% −184,890 −14.96% 1,235,872
Kentucky 8 751,985 41.17% 1,048,462 57.40% 15,378 0.84% 5,989 0.33% 4,694 0.26% 0 0.00% 112 0.01% −296,477 −16.23% 1,826,620
Louisiana 9 782,989 39.93% 1,148,275 58.56% 6,997 0.36% 0 0.00% 2,581 0.13% 9,187 0.47% 10,732 0.55% −365,286 −18.63% 1,960,761
Maine 2 421,923 57.71% 295,273 40.38% 10,636 1.45% 251 0.03% 177 0.02% 2,900 0.40% 3 0.00% 126,650 17.32% 731,163
Maryland 10 1,629,467 61.92% 959,862 36.47% 14,713 0.56% 9,842 0.37% 3,760 0.14% 4,747 0.18% 9,205 0.35% 669,605 25.44% 2,631,596
Massachusetts 12 1,904,097 61.80% 1,108,854 35.99% 28,841 0.94% 13,189 0.43% 4,971 0.16% 6,550 0.21% 14,483 0.47% 795,243 25.81% 3,080,985
Michigan 17 2,872,579 57.43% 2,048,639 40.96% 33,085 0.66% 23,716 0.47% 14,685 0.29% 8,892 0.18% 170 0.00% 823,940 16.47% 5,001,766
Minnesota 10 1,573,354 54.06% 1,275,409 43.82% 30,152 1.04% 9,174 0.32% 6,787 0.23% 5,174 0.18% 10,319 0.35% 297,945 10.24% 2,910,369
Mississippi 6 554,662 43.00% 724,597 56.18% 4,011 0.31% 2,529 0.20% 2,551 0.20% 1,034 0.08% 481 0.04% −169,935 −13.17% 1,289,865
Missouri 11 1,441,911 49.29% 1,445,814 49.43% 17,813 0.61% 11,386 0.39% 8,201 0.28% 80 0.00% 0 0.00% −3,903 −0.13% 2,925,205
Montana 3 231,667 47.25% 242,763 49.51% 3,686 0.75% 1,355 0.28% 143 0.03% 23 0.00% 10,665 2.18% −11,096 −2.26% 490,302
Nebraska 2 333,319 41.60% 452,979 56.53% 5,406 0.67% 2,740 0.34% 2,972 0.37% 1,028 0.13% 2,837 0.35% −119,660 −14.93% 801,281
Nevada 5 533,736 55.15% 412,827 42.65% 6,150 0.64% 4,263 0.44% 3,194 0.33% 1,411 0.15% 6,267 0.65% 120,909 12.49% 967,848
New Hampshire 4 384,826 54.13% 316,534 44.52% 3,503 0.49% 2,217 0.31% 226 0.03% 40 0.01% 3,624 0.51% 68,292 9.61% 710,970
New Jersey 15 2,215,422 57.27% 1,613,207 41.70% 21,298 0.55% 8,441 0.22% 3,956 0.10% 3,636 0.09% 2,277 0.06% 602,215 15.57% 3,868,237
New Mexico 5 472,422 56.91% 346,832 41.78% 5,327 0.64% 2,428 0.29% 1,597 0.19% 1,552 0.19% 0 0.00% 125,590 15.13% 830,158
New York 31 4,804,945 62.88% 2,752,771 36.03% 41,249 0.54% 19,596 0.26% 634 0.01% 12,801 0.17% 8,935 0.12% 2,052,174 26.86% 7,640,931
North Carolina 15 2,142,651 49.70% 2,128,474 49.38% 1,448 0.03% 25,722 0.60% 0 0.00% 158 0.00% 12,336 0.29% 14,177 0.33% 4,310,789
North Dakota 3 141,278 44.62% 168,601 53.25% 4,189 1.32% 1,354 0.43% 1,199 0.38% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% −27,323 −8.63% 316,621
Ohio 20 2,940,044 51.50% 2,677,820 46.91% 42,337 0.74% 19,917 0.35% 12,565 0.22% 8,518 0.15% 7,149 0.13% 262,224 4.59% 5,708,350
Oklahoma 7 502,496 34.35% 960,165 65.65% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% −457,669 −31.29% 1,462,661
Oregon 7 1,037,291 56.75% 738,475 40.40% 18,614 1.02% 7,635 0.42% 7,693 0.42% 4,543 0.25% 13,613 0.74% 298,816 16.35% 1,827,864
Pennsylvania 21 3,276,363 54.49% 2,655,885 44.17% 42,977 0.71% 19,912 0.33% 1,092 0.02% 0 0.00% 17,043 0.28% 620,478 10.32% 6,013,272
Rhode Island 4 296,571 62.86% 165,391 35.06% 4,829 1.02% 1,382 0.29% 675 0.14% 797 0.17% 2,121 0.45% 131,180 27.81% 471,766
South Carolina 8 862,449 44.90% 1,034,896 53.87% 5,053 0.26% 7,283 0.38% 6,827 0.36% 4,461 0.23% 0 0.00% −172,447 −8.98% 1,920,969
South Dakota 3 170,924 44.75% 203,054 53.16% 4,267 1.12% 1,835 0.48% 1,895 0.50% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% −32,130 −8.41% 381,975
Tennessee 11 1,087,437 41.83% 1,479,178 56.90% 11,560 0.44% 8,547 0.33% 8,191 0.32% 2,499 0.10% 2,337 0.09% −391,741 −15.07% 2,599,749
Texas 34 3,528,633 43.68% 4,479,328 55.45% 5,751 0.07% 56,116 0.69% 5,708 0.07% 909 0.01% 1,350 0.02% −950,695 −11.77% 8,077,795
Utah 5 327,670 34.41% 596,030 62.58% 8,416 0.88% 6,966 0.73% 12,012 1.26% 982 0.10% 294 0.03% −268,360 −28.18% 952,370
Vermont 3 219,262 67.46% 98,974 30.45% 3,339 1.03% 1,067 0.33% 500 0.15% 66 0.02% 1,838 0.57% 120,288 37.01% 325,046
Virginia 13 1,959,532 52.63% 1,725,005 46.33% 11,483 0.31% 11,067 0.30% 7,474 0.20% 2,344 0.06% 6,355 0.17% 234,527 6.30% 3,723,260
Washington 11 1,750,848 57.65% 1,229,216 40.48% 29,489 0.97% 12,728 0.42% 9,432 0.31% 3,819 0.13% 1,346 0.04% 521,632 17.18% 3,036,878
West Virginia 5 303,857 42.59% 397,466 55.71% 7,219 1.01% 0 0.00% 2,465 0.35% 2,355 0.33% 89 0.01% −93,609 −13.12% 713,451
Wisconsin 10 1,677,211 56.22% 1,262,393 42.31% 17,605 0.59% 8,858 0.30% 5,072 0.17% 4,216 0.14% 8,062 0.27% 414,818 13.90% 2,983,417
Wyoming 3 82,868 32.54% 164,958 64.78% 2,525 0.99% 1,594 0.63% 1,192 0.47% 0 0.00% 1,521 0.60% −82,090 −32.24% 254,658
U.S. Total 538 69,498,516 52.93% 59,948,323 45.65% 739,034 0.56% 523,715 0.40% 199,750 0.15% 161,797 0.12% 242,685 0.18% 9,550,193 7.27% 131,313,820

Maine and Nebraska each allow for their electoral votes to be split between candidates. In both states, two electoral votes are awarded to the winner of the statewide race and one electoral vote is awarded to the winner of each congressional district. The following table records the official presidential vote tallies for Maine and Nebraska's congressional districts.[226][227]

District Electors Obama % McCain % Nader % Barr % Baldwin % McKinney % Other % Margin % Total
Maine's 1st congressional district 1 232,145 60.51% 144,604 37.69% 5,263 1.37% 1,362 0.36% 252 0.07% 87,541 22.82% 383,626
Maine's 2nd congressional district 1 189,778 54.61% 150,669 43.35% 5,373 1.55% 1,538 0.44% 179 0.05% 39,109 11.25% 347,537
Nebraska's 1st congressional district 1 121,411 44.33% 148,179 54.10% 1,963 0.72% 922 0.34% 1,024 0.37% 394 0.14% −26,768 −9.77% 273,893
Nebraska's 2nd congressional district 1 138,809 49.97% 135,439 48.75% 1,628 0.59% 1,014 0.36% 599 0.22% 320 0.12% 3,370 1.21% 277,809
Nebraska's 3rd congressional district 1 73,099 29.63% 169,361 68.64% 1,815 0.74% 804 0.33% 1,349 0.55% 314 0.13% −96,262 −39.01% 246,742

Close states/districts

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 6% (103 electoral votes):

  1. Missouri 0.13%
  2. North Carolina 0.33%
  3. Indiana 1.03%
  4. Nebraska's 2nd congressional district 1.21%
  5. Montana 2.26%
  6. Florida 2.82%
  7. Ohio 4.59%
  8. Georgia 5.21%

States/districts where margin of victory was more than 6% but less than 10% (58 electoral votes):

  1. Virginia 6.30%
  2. South Dakota 8.41%
  3. Arizona 8.52%
  4. North Dakota 8.63%
  5. Colorado 8.95%
  6. South Carolina 8.98%
  7. Iowa 9.53%
  8. New Hampshire 9.61%
  9. Nebraska's 1st congressional district 9.77%

International reaction

The American presidential election was followed closely internationally.[229] When it was clear that Obama was victorious, many world leaders sent congratulations and well wishes to the President-elect.[230]

Voter demographics

The 2008 presidential vote by demographic subgroup
Demographic subgroup Obama McCain Other  % of
total vote
Total vote 53 46 1 100
Liberals 89 10 1 22
Moderates 60 39 1 44
Conservatives 20 78 2 34
Democrats 89 10 1 39
Republicans 9 90 1 32
Independents 52 44 4 29
Men 49 48 3 47
Women 56 43 1 53
Marital status
Married 47 52 1 66
Non-married 65 33 2 34
White 43 55 2 74
Black 95 4 1 13
Hispanic 67 31 2 9
Asian 62 35 3 2
Other 66 31 3 3
Protestant 45 54 1 54
Catholic 54 45 1 27
Jewish 78 21 1 2
Other 73 22 5 6
None 75 23 2 12
Religious service attendance
More than weekly 43 55 2 12
Weekly 43 55 2 27
Monthly 53 46 1 15
A few times a year 59 39 2 28
Never 67 30 3 16
White evangelical or born-again Christian?
White evangelical or born-again Christian 24 74 2 26
Everyone else 62 36 2 74
18–24 years old 66 32 2 10
25–29 years old 66 31 3 8
30–39 years old 54 44 2 18
40–49 years old 49 49 2 21
50–64 years old 50 49 1 27
65 and older 45 53 2 16
First time voter?
First time voter 69 30 1 11
Everyone else 50 48 2 89
Sexual orientation
Gay, lesbian, or bisexual 70 27 3 4
Heterosexual 53 45 2 96
Not a high school graduate 63 35 2 4
High school graduate 52 46 2 20
Some college education 51 47 2 31
College graduate 50 48 2 28
Postgraduate education 58 40 2 17
Family income
Under $15,000 73 25 2 6
$15,000–30,000 60 37 3 12
$30,000–50,000 55 43 2 19
$50,000–75,000 48 49 3 21
$75,000–100,000 51 48 1 15
$100,000–150,000 48 51 1 14
$150,000–200,000 48 50 1 6
Over $200,000 52 46 2 6
Northeast 59 40 1 21
Midwest 54 44 2 24
South 45 54 1 32
West 57 40 3 23
Community size
Urban 63 35 2 30
Suburban 50 48 2 49
Rural 45 53 2 21

Source: Exit polls conducted by Edison Research of Somerville, N.J., for the National Election Pool, a consortium of ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NBC News.[231]


Obama, having a Caucasian mother and Kenyan father of the Luo ethnic group,[232] became the first African American as well as the first bi-racial president.[233] The Obama-Biden ticket was also the first winning ticket in American history on which neither candidate was a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant; Biden is Roman Catholic and is the first Roman Catholic to be elected Vice President.[234] Obama and Biden were the first President and Vice President elected from the Senate since 1960 (John F. Kennedy/Lyndon B. Johnson), Obama became the first Northern Democratic president since Kennedy, and the Obama-Biden ticket was the first winning Democratic ticket to feature two Northerners since 1940 (Franklin D. Roosevelt/Henry A. Wallace). Also, Obama became the first Democratic candidate to win a majority of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976, the first to win a majority of both votes and states since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and the first Northern Democrat to win a majority of both votes and states since Franklin Roosevelt in 1944.

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.[235] 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.[236] Obama also defied political bellwethers, becoming the first person to win the presidency while losing Missouri since 1956 (as well as the first Democrat ever to do so) 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 8.5 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.[237] McCain won whites 55-43 percent, while Obama won blacks 95-4 percent,[238] Hispanics 67-31 percent, and Asians 62-35 percent. Voters aged 18–29 voted for Obama by 66–32 percent while elderly voters backed McCain 53–45 percent.[239]

See also

Opinion polling


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 online
  • 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

External links

  • DMOZ
  • Scientific American
  • Campaign commercials from the 2008 election
  • How close was the 2008 election?—Michael Sheppard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • US Election 2008 Web Monitor
  • 2008 Electoral Map
  • election coverage
  • Joseph Crespino, "The U.S. South and the 2008 Election", Southern Spaces, December 11, 2008.

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