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Recap of 2008 Presidential Election Results, Explaining Obama’s Success, Demise of the Bradley Effect, Rise of an Obama Effect PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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Recap of 2008 Presidential Election Results, Explaining Obama’s Success, Demise of the Bradley Effect, Rise of an Obama Effect. Dan Nataf Director, Center for the Study of Local Issues, Anne Arundel Community College Nov. 7, 2008. Presentation goals. Review election results in historical

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Recap of 2008 Presidential Election Results, Explaining Obama’s Success, Demise of the Bradley Effect, Rise of an Obama Effect

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Recap of 2008 Presidential Election Results, Explaining Obama’s Success, Demise of the Bradley Effect, Rise of an Obama Effect

Dan Nataf

Director, Center for the Study of Local Issues,

Anne Arundel Community College

Nov. 7, 2008


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Presentation goals

  • Review election results in historical

  • perspective

  • Why did Obama win – was it inevitable?

  • Was there a “Bradley Effect” or an

  • “Obama Effect?”


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Popular Vote Percentages: 1996-2008


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Actual Votes: 1972-2008


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Electoral College1968, 1976, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004


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Electoral College 2008


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Electoral College Votes 1972-2008


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Explanations for Obama’s Win - Was a Democratic Win Inevitable?

  • Generic election, “retrospective voting” OR

  • Candidate effect

  • Policy effect

  • Campaign strategy effect

  • Uncontrolled events during the campaign


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An Inevitable Democratic Win …

  • Generic Election, Retrospective Voting

    • Verdict on the incumbent party

    • Party voting dominates

    • President’s job approval filters votes

    • Forecast models say economic conditions, job approval and incumbency (years in office) predetermine outcome

      Implications: no affirmative policy mandate other than ‘be better than Bush’

      • Results oriented mandate


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An Inevitable Democratic Win…Common Assumption

  • Generic Election, Retrospective Voting“The political environment could not have been worse: an unpopular incumbent; an unpopular, costly war; and an economic calamity.” Ed Rodgers (WH Staffer to R. Reagan and G. H. W. Bush).“McCain swam upstream against a hugely unpopular Republican president, a horribly unpopular Republican Party and an unpopular war.” Alex Castellanos (Romney consultant, McCain adviser).


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An Inevitable Democratic Win…Common Assumption

  • Generic Election, Retrospective VotingHypothesis 1: If a generic election, results will be anticipated well in advance of election day.

  • Confirmed:

    • 6 of 9 political scientists said Obama would win…72-300 days PRIOR to the election

    • Range of victory 50.1-58.4 percent

    • Others: 2 ‘tied’ one at 49 percent

    • General ‘mean’ prediction: 52-53 percent –

    • Results 52-53 percent Obama.


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An Inevitable Democratic Win… Generic Election – Retrospective Voting

Hypothesis 2:If a generic election, voters will stick to their party identifications when voting.

Mostly Confirmed

(Data from exit polls)


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An Inevitable Democratic Win… Generic Election – Retrospective Voting

Hypothesis 3:If a generic election, retrospective voters who disapprove of President Bush’s job performance will defect and vote for the Democratic candidate.

Mostly confirmed

(Data from exit polls)


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An Inevitable Democratic Win…Generic Election – Retrospective Voting

Partisan allegiance and job approval in Anne Arundel County (CSLI poll)


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An Inevitable Democratic Win…Generic Election – Retrospective Voting

  • Partisan allegiance and Bush job approval (CSLI poll)


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An Inevitable Democratic Win…Generic Election – Retrospective Voting

Hypothesis 4: In a generic election, the incumbent party is systemically behind the challenger party - Mostly confirmed


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An Inevitable Democratic Win…Generic election – summary of results

Hypothesis 1: If a generic election, results will be anticipated well in advance of election day. Confirmed

Hypothesis 2: If a generic election, voters will stick to their party identifications when voting. Mostly confirmed

Hypothesis 3: If a generic election, retrospective voters who disapprove of President Bush’s job performance will defect and vote for the Democratic candidate. Mostly confirmed

Hypothesis 4: In a generic election, the incumbent party candidate is systemically behind the challenger party. Mostly confirmed


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Not inevitable? Candidate affirmation and symbolic effects

  • Candidate affirmation – implies “trustee” mandate

    “I…almost lost it when I saw Obama standing there on the [victory speech] stage with his family…I thought of the mind-blowing imagery we will see when this young beautiful black family becomes the nation’s First Family….and this reaction I’m trying to describe isn’t really about Obama’s policies. I’ll disagree with some of his decisions…this moment has less to do with Obama than with the nation.”

    (Eugene Robinson WP editorial writer)“Obama has a wonderful temperament. He knows he has to build real relationships for anything to happen. He doesn’t have them now, but his instincts are perfect.”

    (Chris Dodd, Senator D – Conn)

    “McCain’s campaign created a great narrative, a great story, but it was only about John McCain…”

    (Alex Castellanos)


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Not inevitable? Candidate affirmation and symbolic effects

  • Candidate temperament, intellect, image, judgment, background

  • Conveyed by:

    • Ads and convention messages

    • Possible positive effects of debates, long primaries

    • Observed performance under pressure


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Not inevitable? Candidate vs. policy affirmation

  • Policies advocated widely known and positively evaluated by voters (exit poll) – implies policy mandate

  • Hypothesis 5: A generic election will feature most voters attracted to the challenger due more to policy differences than the personal qualities of the candidate. Confirmed


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Not inevitable? Campaign strategy effects

  • Hypothesis 6: In a generic election, the challenger party candidate focuses on ‘change’ while the incumbent party candidate tries to distance himself from his party and its policies.

  • Obama: “You really are George Bush – you just don’t know it”

    • Emphasize ‘change’

    • Play up ‘consensus’ vision, pragmatic approach to policy making

    • Discount ‘inside the Beltway’ experience

    • Play it safe – middle class appeal, always applaud McCain’s service to the country – depersonalize the race

    • Raise lots of money

    • Hope for unexpected endorsements

  • McCain: “I am NOT George Bush”

    • Emphasize ‘maverick’ status, also ‘change agent’

    • Focus on policy splits from Republicans/Bush

    • Comparative personal biographies – personalize the race

    • Take chances – “suspend campaign,” pick Palin


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  • Not inevitable? Campaign strategy effects

Critics assumed that McCain could have run a generic campaign and won or that the race was lost due to certain tactical mistakes…

“The Republicans chose tactics – the ‘celebrity ad,’ the choice of Sarah Palin, suspending the campaign – designed to win the news cycle rather than sticking to a strategy that could win the election.”

(Carter Eskew, Gore 2000 chief strategist)


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  • Not inevitable? Campaign strategy effects

Could ONE BIG tactical difference really have changed the outcome?

“Had McCain voted against the bailout of Wall Street firms and backed the Republican alternative, there is no question in my mind he would have won. [Rather than embracing the Bush bailout backed by the Democrats] America was waiting for him to speak out against excessive government spending and against bailing out the Wall Street firms for their greed.”

(Dick Morris, Fox News contributor)


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  • Not inevitable? Campaign strategy effects

Were the ‘controversial’ decisions likely to have been decisive?

“The McCain campaign added to all of the negative circumstances: McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign and rush back to Washington to associate himself with an unpopular…Wall Street “bailout” was inexplicable. Sarah Palin never fully recovered from her interview with Katie Couric. How could that possibly have been a good idea?”

(Ed Rogers)


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Not inevitable? Uncontrolled events

  • Were uncontrolled events reinforcing or challenging the generic model?– mostly reinforcing

    • Main events:

      • Iraq – surge works

        • McCain says ‘I told you so’

        • Obama says ‘My approach (get out soon) is more relevant than ever’

      • Economy tanks

        • Obama says ‘Bush economics got us here – do you want four more years of the same?’

        • McCain says ‘Suspend the campaign!’


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Not inevitable? Uncontrolled events

  • Remember how bad it seemed at the time…reinforced the ‘change’ vision

    The global financial system teeters on the edge of a collapse the likes of which has not been seen in at least 80 years. Thanks to the complexity of the financial instruments involved, the amount of leverage used to trade them, and the global interconnectedness of it all, it could be the worst collapse in financial history. The key question at this point is "What will make it stop?“

    (Sept. 14, 2008 - Peter Cohen Blogging Stocks)


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Not inevitable? Uncontrolled events

CSLI Fall 2008 Survey


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Putting it all together…


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General conclusions about campaigns

  • Hypothesis 6: In a generic election, the challenger party candidate focuses on ‘change’ while the incumbent party candidate tries to distance himself from his party and its policies. Confirmed

  • Campaign tactics may have had some influence

  • Uncontrolled events helped reinforce the generic election dynamic for change


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Special polling challenges – The demise of the Bradley effect, the rise of an Obama effect?

  • Barack Obama’s historiccandidacy– first major party African American nominee

  • Polls showed him winning in many states

  • Too ‘good to be true?’ – Was there a Bradley effect taking place?

  • Was there an “Obama effect” taking place?


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Special polling challenges – The demise of the Bradley effect?

Two key dimensions to polling

  • Can we trust that people are telling us the truth?

  • Have we included the right people in the proper proportions in our estimates? (Turnout model assumptions)


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Special polling challenges – The demise of the Bradley effect?

Can we trust that people are telling us the truth?

  • Bradley effect – overestimation of voting support from white voters

    • Tom Bradley (CA), 1982

    • David Dinkins (NY), 1989

    • Douglas Wilder (VA), 1989

  • Why?

    • Latent racism

    • Social desirability

    • Interviewer bias based on race of interviewer


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    Special polling challenges – The demise of the Bradley effect?

    Bradley effect – debate over whether it ever occurred and continues to occur

    • Tom Bradley, 1982 – other explanations for his loss

    • Harvard – examined 133 elections, 1996 dividing point – reverse Bradley effect after 1996

    • University of Washington – variable effect based on size of African American population during 2008 Dem primaries

      • Reverse Bradley effect in states with more than 15 percent of African American voters

      • Bradley effect in states with under 10 percent of African American voters

      • No effect in many states


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    Special challenges to polling

    Hypothesis 7:

    Bradley effect will be seen in states with less than 10 percent African Americans

    Hypothesis 8:

    Reverse Bradley effect will be seen in states with at least 15 percent African Americans

    Hypothesis 9:

    There will be about a 3 percent reverse Bradley effect overall


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    Special challenges to polling

    Hypothesis 7:Bradley effect will be seen in states with less than 10 percent African Americans - disconfirmed

    Hypothesis 8:Reverse Bradley effect will be seen in states with at least 15 percent African Americans - confirmed

    Hypothesis 9:There will be about a 3 percent reverse Bradley effect overall. Results: Mostly confirmed at 2.41 percent


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    Special challenges to polling: The demise of the Bradley effect

    Conclusions about the Bradley effect:

    Hypothesis 7:Bradley effect will be seen in states with less than 10 percent African Americans - disconfirmed

    Hypothesis 8:Reverse Bradley effect will be seen in states with at least 15 percent African Americans - confirmed

    Hypothesis 9:There will be about a 3 percent reverse Bradley effect overall. Results: Mostly confirmed at 2.41 percent

    Bradley effect appears dead – reaffirmation of the generic model thesis.


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    Special Polling Challenges – An “Obama Effect?”

    Who will be voting?

    Turnout models assume that certain percentages of various groups will vote

    • Partisan groups – Democrats, Republicans

    • Demographic groups – Gender, Age, Income, Religion, Urban setting


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    Special Challenges to PollingObama Effect? Gallup’s two models

    Traditional model (no Obama effect):

    • Those with prior voting histories

    • Intention/likelihood to vote

      • Fewer first time voters, young, less likely to include minorities

        Expanded Model (assumes Obama effect)

    • Based only on interest and expressed intention to vote

      • Includes new voters, younger voters (18-34), minorities

        Hypothesis 10: In a generic election, the expanded model will not yield a larger gap between McCain and Obama than will the traditional model.


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    Special Challenges to Polling: Obama Effect?

    Who will be voting? Gallup Two Models:

    Traditional model:

    Expanded model:


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    Special Challenges to Polling: Obama Effect?

    Hypothesis 10: In a generic election, the expanded model will not yield a larger gap between McCain and Obama than will the traditional model.

    Results: Mostly confirmed:

    Early Obama effect dissipates with time – reinforces view that this was a ‘generic election’

    Hypothesis 11: In a generic election, the expanded model will be less accurate in predicting Virginia’s surprising 5 point Obama victory than traditional model.


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    Special Challenges to Polling: Obama Effect?

    Who will be voting?SurveyUSA in Virginia Oct. 25-26Estimated Obama’s lead at +9%; Actual results +5%


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    Special Challenges to Polling – Conclusions

    • Hypothesis 11: In a generic election, the expanded model will be less accurate in predicting Virginia’s surprising 5 point Obama victory than traditional model. Confirmed

  • An Obama effect? Not observed in our tests, but:

  • In 2008, most polls underestimated Obama’s performance – possibly due to some unexpected mix of new voters, young voters and minorities. Further testing needed.

  • Polling – Still an art form based on ‘secret’ formulas about who to believe and how to weight the samples.


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    General Conclusions

    • (1) The main contest was during the Democratic primaries.

    • (2) The main challenge for Obama was to become acceptable as a credible spokesperson for the challenger party.

    • (3) The campaign and the candidate accomplished this, helped out by uncontrollable events.

    • (4) The Obama effect MAY have helped inspire lots of new voters, but was probably not decisive.


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