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This Week: A Colloquium on the 2008 Election

- January 12, 2009

This week, The Monkey Cage will be hosting a discussion about the 2008 election. Our collaborator in this venture is The Forum, an electronic journal that features political scientists’ commentary on contemporary politics. This issue of The Forum focuses on the election, including such topics as forecasting models, the nominations battle, the influence of race, the historical context of Obama’s victory, foreign affairs, and realignment.

To kick off the discussion, we at The Monkey Cage will be posting our reactions to these articles. We hope that some of you, our readers, will respond. The authors of these articles have also been invited to respond, in comments or in guest posts. Hopefully, this combination of perspectives will engender a productive conversation.

The Forum has made all of this issue’s content absolutely ungated. Find it here or here. Please take a look and, as Hillary Clinton would say, let the conversation begin.

Article abstracts are below the fold…

Race and the Moral Character of the Modern American Experience
Paul M. Sniderman, Stanford University
Edward H. Stiglitz, Stanford University

bq. The purpose of this study is two-fold. A central divide in the race-in-politics literature concerns whether people openly profess racially prejudiced statements or confine themselves to subtle racism. Our first objective is to examine this debate using new data from the 2008 election. Our second – and central – objective is to bring out the opposing forces in the politics of race. To this point, all the emphasis has been on the force of prejudice. We show that an opposing force of good will also exists, and that many Americans hold blacks in esteem. Using data collected after the 2008 election, we find that esteem dramatically increases the likelihood of supporting Obama for partisans who disagree with their party on ideological terms (e.g., conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans), but not for partisans who agree with their party ideologically (e.g., liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans).

Interest Groups in the 2008 Presidential Election: The Barking Dog That Didn’t Bite
David C. Kimball, University of Missouri – St Louis

bq. Where were interest groups in the 2008 presidential election? In previous elections interest groups have played a crucial, often attacking, role in presidential campaigns. This essay compares the influence of interest groups in the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns in terms of financing election activities, shaping the campaign agenda, influencing candidate images and mobilizing voters. Interest groups represented the barking dog that didn’t bite in the 2008 presidential election. I offer some explanations involving lessons learned from previous campaigns, strategic calculations by groups, and the challenging issue environment for many interest groups. Despite the muted impact of interest groups in the 2008 presidential campaign, the long-term prognosis is that interest groups will continue to be important in American elections.

The Nomination and the Election: Clearing Away Underbrush
Byron E. Shafer, University of Wisconsin
Amber Wichowsky, University of Wisconsin

bq. The politics of presidential selection in 2008 reinvigorated an old argument from democratic theory about the relationship between nominating politics and the general election. Now that the latter is over, it is possible to return to these debates and ask how candidate fortunes at the nominating stage were linked to performances in November. For 2008, the strongest of these relationships proved to be perverse, with nominees performing best in states that they would cede to their opponent in the general election. Other relationships, however, as with improving or impairing results in individual states, achieved a more straightforward character, especially when institutional structure and temporal order were taken into account.

The Return of the Voter: Voter Turnout in the 2008 Presidential Election
Michael P. McDonald, George Mason University

bq. The presidential turnout rate for those eligible to vote was 61.6% in 2008, which marks the third consecutive increase in presidential turnout rates since the modern low point of 51.7% in 1996. Turnout is no longer declining – if it ever was – and has reverted to the ‘high’ levels experienced during the 1950s and 1960s. This challenges many theories posited to explain turnout declines. I explore election trends among the states in hopes to provide clues as to why civic engagement has been restored.

Foreign Affairs and the 2008 Election
Robert P. Saldin, University of Montana

bq. Much of the commentary in the wake of last month’s presidential election has focused on the magnitude and historic aspects of Barack Obama’s victory and the deteriorating economic environment in which it played out. Little thought has been given to the influence of foreign affairs in the election. Yet even in this year’s contest, which appears to lend considerable support to economic-based theories of elections, international events clearly played an important role by shaping the nomination process for both major parties and in Obama’s selection of Joseph Biden as his running mate.

Presidential Election Forecasts
David A. Walker, Georgetown University

bq. This paper contrasts election forecasting models that include macro-economic and financial market variables with forecasts by Fair and the Iowa Electronic Market (IEM), as well estimates made by widely recognized pollsters. The Financial Market Model proposed here incorporates the impact of election year stock market changes, including information about the recent financial crisis. However, the Financial Market Model grossly overestimates the challenger’s vote share. The IEM forecast of 53.0 percent, the Fair forecast of 51.9 percent, and the Macro-Economic Market model forecast of 51.5 percent were close to the actual vote share of 53.2 percent for the Democratic nominee, but the Financial Market forecast of 59.4 in this paper would have made the president-elect extremely happy.

An Exceptional Election: Performance, Values, and Crisis in the 2008 Presidential Election
James E. Campbell, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

bq. This article examines the influences on the 2008 presidential election that led to the election of Barack Obama. There were many reasons why observers expected 2008 to be a strong year for the Democrats. The poor retrospective evaluations of the Bush presidency were thought to be too much of a burden for any Republican presidential candidate to bear successfully. On the other hand, open seat elections have been historically close, in part because successor candidates receive neither the full credit nor the full blame of incumbents. Moreover, in a period of partisan parity and ideological polarization, tight contests are to be expected. Add to these factors the fact that neither party’s nominee faced an easy time winning his party’s nomination and the fact that McCain was unusually moderate for a Republican presidential candidate and Obama was a northern liberal as well as the first African-American presidential candidate of a major party and there was every reason to suspect a closely decided election. That was the way that the election was shaping up in the polls until the Wall Street meltdown hit in mid-September. It was the “game changer” that tipped the election to Obama.

The Magnitude of the 2008 Democratic Victory: By the Numbers
James W. Ceaser, University of Virginia & Stanford University
Daniel DiSalvo, The City College of New York

bq. This essay explores the scope of the Democratic Party’s victory in the 2008 elections by comparing it to other U.S. elections since 1896. Three conclusions are drawn from the analysis: (1) that Obama’s personal victory, though significant, was far from being massive, or even unusual, by historical standards; (2) that the Democratic congressional victory of 2008, relative to the midterm election of 2006, falls in the upper range of congressional victories in a presidential year; (3) that the Democrats’ victory becomes more impressive in light of its reversal of the 2004 election, which represented the high-water mark for Republicans since 1928. The essay also briefly considers whether and in what sense the Democrats’ victory might have inaugurated a party realignment.

LBJ’s Revenge: The 2008 Election and the Rise of the Great Society Coalition
Philip A. Klinkner, Hamilton College
Thomas Schaller, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

bq. Four decades ago, at the height of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, Congress passed and the president signed landmark legislation to ensure voting rights, liberalize and expand immigration, and make higher education more accessible. In 2008, a coalition of minorities and upscale whites formed a coalition to elect Barack Obama to the White House. Although many of the Great Society goals remain elusive, the new Democratic majority assembled by Obama represents the emergence of a Great Society electoral coalition.

Whither the Roberts Court?
Cornell W. Clayton, Washington State University
Ericka Christensen, Washington State University

bq. This essay examines the first three terms of the Roberts Court and assesses John Roberts’ leadership as Chief Justice. It begins by examining Roberts’ appointment to the Court, his constitutional views, and his leadership style. It then turns to examine the Court’s major decisions and decision-making trends during its first three terms. It concludes by considering the impact of the recent presidential election on the Court and Roberts’ leadership going forward. It contends that although John Roberts has impressive skills as a jurist and a leader of the Court, he is likely to find himself (and thus his ability to lead the Court) increasingly at odds with broader developments in the American politics.