John McCain: Barack Obama: Tossup:

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) won the presidency by defeating Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) on November 4, 2008.

The 2008 election results: Obama won the Electoral College after receiving 365 votes to 173 votes for McCain. Obama won 52.9% of the popular vote, while McCain gathered 45.7% of the popular vote. Obama became the nation’s first African American president with his victory. The 2008 presidential election focused on a national economic crisis that evolved throughout the race.

The 2008 electoral vote map is above. Click on the states in the map to toggle them between Democrat, Republican and Tossup.

Primaries

President George W. Bush (R) was unable to seek re-election due to term limits, leaving open nominating processes for both major parties. The first month of the Republican primaries was competitive with Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee securing a victory in the Iowa caucus and McCain winning New Hampshire. McCain’s victory in South Carolina, Florida, and in key states on Super Tuesday created an clear path to the nomination. He selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate to counter arguments that McCain’s age would be a detriment to presidential service.

Obama and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton were the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination. Obama won early votes in Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina, while Clinton secured primary wins in Florida and Michigan. The candidates sparred through the June 3 primaries despite Obama securing enough delegates to win the nomination earlier in the race. Obama selected Delaware Senator Joe Biden to offset concerns about Obama’s experience with foreign policy.

Economic Issues

National security and foreign policy issues took a back seat to the economy due to an unraveling financial crisis. By December 2007, a credit crisis related to overextension of subprime mortgage-backed securities led to a significant recession. The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 set off an economic panic that spread globally. McCain and Obama both voted for a 2008 Senate bill to authorize the Treasury Department to purchase up to $700 billion in securities to prevent additional bankruptcies.

The candidates disagreed on the causes of the financial crisis and tax policy. Obama argued that deregulation of the financial industry led to risky trading mechanisms contributing to the crisis. McCain suggested that government-aided bodies like the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) failed to offset these risks. Obama campaigned on cutting low-income and middle-income taxes and raising upper-income tax rates, while McCain supported tax cuts at all income levels.

National Security

McCain and Obama differed on the presence of American troops in Iraq. McCain, who supported the initial Iraq invasion, opposed establishing a removal date for all troops. Obama opposed the Iraq invasion and argued for a 16-month timetable for removing troops and reinforcing troops in Afghanistan.

Strategy

The Obama campaign used social media and data gathering to promote the candidate’s argument for change. The campaign engaged targeted groups through networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Localized groups supporting Obama and Biden were able to sign up through the main campaign site, which gathered contact info for mobilization purposes. Obama also offered the chance for voters to elect the nation’s first African American president and a relatively young president at 47 years old.

2008 election results

McCain sought to connect his campaign to the maverick image he received during his unsuccessful 2000 bid. He also disconnected himself from the Bush administration, which became unpopular due to the financial crisis and the ongoing conflict in Iraq. McCain also hoped that Palin’s youth and relatability to conservative women would buoy his campaign. Palin’s selection initially bumped McCain’s popularity, though gaffes on the campaign trail offset this boost.

2008 Election Results

Obama won nearly all major demographic groups on his way to victory. He won 56% of women voters and 49% of male voters, the latter group important to Republican chances in the race. McCain still won the white vote, though Obama’s share of the vote was large enough to win in some Republican areas. The Obama campaign also realized its commitment to younger voters by winning all age groups except those aged 65 years and older.

These voting patterns translated into an Obama victory with inroads into the South and West. Obama won Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, with Florida and North Carolina representing early evening signs of Democratic success. He also secured wins in Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, and New Mexico, which were not reliable parts of the Democratic coalition to that point. Congressional Democrats made gains in the House and the Senate after winning majorities in both chambers during the 2006 midterm elections.