I tried staying up all night to catch the results as they came in but I fell asleep before we even saw an exit poll and then woke before eight to hear that Obama had done it!
I had no doubt that he would do it and for many weeks now I’ve been passing on my predictions for a record turnout and landslide Obama victory to anyone who would listen. It was sort of obvious that that was the way this election was going but nobody who badly wanted Obama to win would say as much for fear of jinxing the thing and nobody who wanted McCain to win would admit defeat. Then there was always the possibility that at the last moment significant numbers would not find it in themselves to either vote for a black man or get out of bed and go vote for the first time ever. So, the elephant just sat in the room and everyone pretended it wasn’t there!
Well, they did have a record turnout and that was obvious even before I dozed off looking at the queues at the polling stations. It’s estimated that more than 131 million Americans, 64% of eligible voters, did get out of bed and go tick a box, punch a chad or whatever they do over there. The turnout is very close to the all-time highest of 1908, which was 65.7%. The next best turnout was for JFK versus Nixon in 1960, that was 63.8%.
As for the landslide, well I have to say in some ways it was not as comprehensive as I expected. There’s a still quite a lot of red on the map of America and the difference in the popular vote, 53% to Obama and 47% to McCain, whilst there is a gap, it is smaller than I thought it would be. Still, it is those strange things called “electoral votes” that count and by that measure Obama has more than double the votes of McCain at 349 to 163. Missouri and North Carolina are the only two states that are too close to call so I don’t think they are included in those figures as they are still double checking the counts. Those states only have 11 and 15 electoral votes respectively.
The red colour on the map follows a simple pattern; the whole of the centre of the USA voted McCain and so did the Southern States. I’m assuming the South is a racial, some might call it tradition, issue and the centre I guess is just very conservative. Top marks to Colorado and New Mexico who stand out in bright blue in the middle of all that central red territory having given big wins to the democrats. Without those it really would be the case that Obama can go visit both coasts (apart from the red-necks) but nothing in-between! From what I can see, the biggest margin of victory for McCain was in Wyoming (full of gay cowboys if you believe the movies) and the biggest for Obama was in Vermont (New England, maple syrup capital of the USA).
Why did Obama win? I have browsed the exit poll statistics but this from CNN sums it up:
According to exit polls, Obama crushed McCain among women voters (56 percent to 43 percent); voters under 30 (66 percent to 32 percent); African-American voters (95 percent to 4 percent); Latino voters (66 percent to 32 percent); first-time voters (68 percent to 31 percent); and voters making less than $100,000 a year (55 percent to 43 percent).
Having said that, this might be more of a case of why did McCain lose and for that summary I’ll turn to Reuters:
Republican John McCain lost Tuesday’s presidential election because he could not overcome a hostile economic environment, distance himself from an unpopular president or convince voters he could lead them out of the crisis. As the blame game began, analysts also said McCain’s choice of inexperienced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate raised doubts about his judgment. It ultimately may have alienated more voters than it attracted.
McCain’s attempts to portray Barack Obama as a tax-raising socialist with friends who were terrorists drove away moderate voters, who handed the Democrat a decisive victory on Tuesday. An extremely unpopular Republican president coupled with a sputtering economy made for a tough political climate for McCain. Even if he had run a perfect campaign, it may not have been enough this year.
After eight years of Republican White House rule, the party had turned off racial minorities, young voters and more educated voters. The final blow was the large-scale defection of working class whites devastated by the economic crisis. But the Arizona senator’s response fell flat. He did not distance himself early or forcefully enough from President George W. Bush, party strategists said, and his lack of a coherent economic message loomed large as the issue trumped the Iraq war in voters’ minds.
So what now? Hopefully ‘Hockey Mom’, having failed miserably as a secret weapon, will go back to being annoying in Alaska and leave the rest of the world in peace. Perhaps we’ll get to hear which charity got all her campaign outfits. John McCain may well fade away, shunned by his party as a maverick loser and having spent all his energy on one last try. I mean come on! At 72 yrs old he must be absolutely shagged out after this campaign.
As for Obama, well he’s got the hardest job of all, delivering all those expectations. He’ll be able to keep a level of support by doing things like bringing the troops home early. He’ll bring a human face to the economic crisis, certainly he’ll make nice speeches about it. With the right help he may even be able to improve matters. In any event, he’ll be a breath of fresh air versus the complete idiot that’s been on the TV for the last 4 years. Bush never looked like he knew what was going on, nor that he cared what was going on. So good to see the back of him.
Perhaps most challenging for Obama is that the majority of the people that have given him their support are possibly, on a day-to-day life level, the most difficult people to help. To make a real improvement in their lives, to deliver the promised change. It’s easy to keep older, white, rich people happy, just let them make more money, but they didn’t vote for Obama. How to help the young, non-white, poorer people? I have no idea and I wonder if Obama does and if he does, whether he’ll be able to make it happen at the same time as dealing with the daily grind of running the USA. Change is a good word when you want to get votes from people who really need it but convincing them that you have delivered the change they wanted, well that’s a different matter.
Foreign policy and Obama? Will be very interesting indeed. How does the fact that he has strong family ties in Kenya affect the USA’s foreign policy, just for one example. Just how “different” is he going to be to what we have become used to seeing from US presidents.
Is Obama a two term president? I note that he’s already been spattering his speeches with references to the fact that what needs to be done might not take one year or even one term. Good thinking to set expectations and points to refer back to later but as he approaches the end of his first term I don’t think words like “We still have so much to do” will be enough. He has to have delivered something in the meantime.
As with any political system, his ultimate success will probably depend on the appointments he makes in the next 10 weeks as he builds his administration around him. There’s no question that Obama can deliver the front end, be the puppet if you like, just like Reagan did for the republicans. The question is whether the people around him can do a good job of the mechanics of running the country. Also, I suppose, of whether he’s able to “do as he’s told” a lot more than I suspect he’s intending to.
I just noticed another elephant in my study. This one is called assassination. God forbid and I know it is 40 years on from the most obvious comparison but it must be a very real concern, mustn’t it? America has a healthy stock of complete nutters and some of them must be pretty mad right now so I don’t think it’s scaremongering to talk about it. He’s got the charisma of JFK and the colour and passion of Martin Luther King Jnr so lets just hope this is third time lucky.