On Friday, November 14, CSDP and the Brookings Institution co-sponsored the final seminar of the Election 2008 series:

John Harwood
Chief Washington Correspondent, CNBC; Political Writer, New York Times
Gary Jacobson
Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego
James Stimson
Raymond Dawson Professor of Political Science,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Larry Bartels
Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
Thomas Mann
W. Averell Harriman Chair and Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings


THOMAS MANN: The previous sessions have covered topics such as parties and partisanship, the fundamentals of the election, including the economy, the war, and the President’s standing. Our third session looked to see how issues get involved in elections, how ideology or ideological proximity might or might not matter, race, gender, and the traits of candidates. And then last time we looked at, more specifically, at campaign effects, money, ads, and mobilization.

Today we’re going to look back on that, look at the election results, and ask, “What do they portend for politics and governance in the days and months and years ahead?” Partly what we’re going to be doing is seeing what we can add, subtract, and amend to the analyses that have been offered up in the last ten days.

The order of our presentations will begin with Larry Bartels, who, as I said, is co-directing and organizing this session with me. Larry, for those who haven’t bought it yet, you must, his book is called Unequal Democracy. And then we’re going to follow with my long time friend and colleague, Gary Jacobson, who is a Professor of Political Science at the University of California San Diego, who has always written definitive work on congressional elections and money in elections, but whose recent book was a book about the Bush presidency, A Divider, Not a Uniter....

Click here for the entire transcript and mp3 audio of the event

 Posted by  Larry Bartels

Much of this year’s Republican presidential campaign consisted of a series of blistering attacks portraying the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, as an elitist, a celebrity, a socialist, a pal of domestic terrorists, and a stranger to “real America.” It would be hard to imagine a campaign better suited to appeal to the culturally conservative working-class white voters depicted in Thomas Frank’s 2004 best seller, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

Obama himself seemed to exacerbate the culture clash when he suggested back in April that “bitter” small-town folks on the losing end of economic change “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” He added that they “don’t vote on economic issues, because they don’t expect anybody’s going to help them.” If that was true—either before Obama’s comments or because of them—then the Democratic ticket seemed poised for big losses among the sorts of people Frank described.
So how did voters respond? According to the exit polls, Obama outpolled the previous Democratic nominee, John Kerry, among people from small towns and rural areas and among gun owners. He also did better than Kerry among white males, white Protestants, and white evangelicals. In short, the culture clash seems to have fizzled among many of the people supposedly most alienated by the cosmopolitan bent of the contemporary Democratic Party.
Of course, Obama was greatly advantaged by voters’ economic distress and by the remarkable unpopularity of the incumbent president. Perhaps white men, gun owners, and other stereotypical “backlash” voters were simply swept along reluctantly in this year’s Democratic tide.
The exit poll results strongly suggest that there was more to it than that. Obama actually recorded some of his biggest gains among white voters in some of the most culturally conservative parts of the country. He outpolled Kerry by 6 to 10 percentage points among white voters in Indiana, North Dakota, Utah, Montana, Nebraska, and—yes—Thomas Frank’s Kansas. In contrast, exit polls recorded smaller gains for Obama among white voters in bastions of elitism like New York, Connecticut, and California.
Obama did better among lower-income white voters than among those with higher incomes—a familiar pattern for recent Democratic presidential candidates. After months of hand-wringing punditry about his problems with the white working class in the distressed industrial Midwest, he won majorities among white voters with below-average incomes in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, and a near-majority in Pennsylvania. (John McCain won a majority of more affluent white voters in all those states and 27 others.)
The election of our first black president constitutes “a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation’s fraught racial history,” as Adam Nagourney put it in the Times. It has prompted hearty self-congratulation all around regarding the broad-mindedness of American voters. The perception that white Americans succeeded in transcending racial antipathy is reinforced by the fact that only 9% of voters in the exit poll said that race was a major factor in their decision, and they mostly voted for Obama.
However, there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence suggesting that racial resentment eroded Obama’s support among white voters. His gains relative to Kerry were significantly smaller in states with large numbers of African-Americans—a pattern disguised in the overall vote totals by his strong support among African-Americans themselves. In the former Confederacy he gained only slightly over Kerry among white voters, despite making big gains in two key swing states, North Carolina and Virginia. The only states in the country in which he lost more than a point or two of white support were Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
The notable resistance of southern whites to Obama’s candidacy continues a half-century trend sparked by the demise of the unnatural southern Democratic monopoly of the Jim Crow era.  From 1952 through 2004, the average level of support for Democratic presidential candidates fell by more than 15 points among white southerners while increasing slightly among whites in the rest of the country. This year’s pattern reinforces that long-term shift, underlining the extent to which the Democratic Party’s much-discussed “culture” problem is really a regional problem rooted in white racial resentment.
Obama himself resisted the notion that antipathy to his candidacy was “simply racial.” Asked during the campaign about his trouble winning support from white men with lower incomes or less education, he answered, “It’s more just that I’m different in all kinds of ways. I’m different even for black people.”
Perhaps so. Nevertheless, black people responded enthusiastically to his candidacy, easily surpassing their already-high levels of support for previous Democratic candidates. What is more surprising is that so many culturally conservative white voters in the Midwest and West also found their way to Obama, rejecting a Republican campaign that was largely devoted to stoking fears of difference. However, in the most racially conservative parts of the white South fears of difference often prevailed.
Judging from last week’s election results, then, not much seems to be the matter with Kansas; but Louisiana may be another story.

This entry also appears as a guest post today on Ezra Klein's blog on The American Prospect.

Election Debriefing

 Posted by  Larry Bartels

I’ve already seen lots of excellent political science post-mortems on the election. John Sides has had a particularly good series of posts at Monkey Cage attempting to debunk various myths about what happened and why. Here are a few points along the same lines, from today’s CSDP roundtable on the election.

First, as always, much of the focus of commentators in the immediate aftermath of the election has been on the quality of the two candidates’ campaigns. The New York Times made Obama’s campaign the lead, headlining their main morning-after analysis (by Adam Nagourney, Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny) “Near-Flawless Run Is Credited in Victory”. On the other hand, my Princeton colleague Julian Zelizer put the focus on McCain in a Newsweek piece headlined “Worst Campaign Ever?”. (Julian may be this year’s winner of my quadrennial award for first use of the phrase “worst campaign ever”; I believe the last time there was no award was in 1976.)
Of course, it is very hard to know—or even how to know how we would know—which candidate ran a better campaign. Many decisions on both sides were significantly shaped by the fundamental contours of the election year. It seems well worth noting, however, that the result turned out very much as one would have expected based on political scientists’ early forecasts—and this despite Obama’s big fundraising advantage and the “fortuitous” timing of the financial meltdown, which focused voters’ attention even more single-mindedly on the economy than would otherwise have been the case.
There is certainly plenty of evidence in the exit polls suggesting that the election was primarily a referendum on the state of the country under President Bush. In the country as a whole and in several key swing states, half the voters thought national economic conditions were “poor,” and they went for Obama by 2-to-1 margins. A similar number strongly disapproved of Bush’s performance, and they went for Obama by even wider margins. With 90 to 95% of the votes he needed to be elected coming from people who strongly disapproved of the incumbent government, Obama didn’t have to win much support from the other half of the electorate (many of whom disapproved of Bush’s performance, but less strongly) in order to win.
Retrospective Voting in 2008 Exit Polls

National Economic Conditions Poor
(Obama Margin)
Strongly Disapprove of Bush’s Performance
(Obama Margin)
49% (66-31)
51% (82-16)
53% (66-33)
52% (82-16)
43% (66-32)
43% (86-13)
North Carolina
49% (64-35)
47% (84-15)
53% (68-30)
52% (83-16)
44% (72-27)
53% (86-13)
43% (67-33)
50% (84-15)

There has also been lots of talk about whether the election outcome marks a major shift in the standing of the parties and the nature of their supporting coalitions. The detailed presentation of election results in today’s New York Times was headlined “In a Decisive Victory, Obama Reshapes the Electoral Map.” A piece by John Judis in The New Republic is even bolder, announcing that “Obama’s Victory Marks a Radical Realignment in American Politics”. This, too, is a common theme in commentary whenever either party wins an election by more than a few percentage points—and it, too, is often much-overblown.
In a brief pre-election post I suggested looking at the continuity of state-level election returns from 2004 to 2008 as a way to gauge whether this election produced any major political shifts. The simple answer turns out to be that, by this measure, nothing very unusual happened. The following table reports the slope, intercept, and standard error of the bivariate regression of 2008 popular vote margins on 2004 vote margins in the 50 states and DC. (Omitting DC, or Hawaii, which is a notable outlier, makes no real difference to the statistical results.)
Shifts in State-Level Voting Patterns

1980-2004 (Average)
Continuity of Previous Partisan Pattern
(regression slope)
National Swing
(regression intercept)
Local Forces
(standard deviation)

In every respect, the results from 2008 look much like those from other recent presidential elections. The slope of the regression line is 1.00, which suggests that 100% of the existing partisan pattern of support from 2004 persisted in 2008. The intercept reflects a national swing of 9 points (remember, these are vote margins rather than vote shares)—only slightly larger than the average for elections since 1980. And the standard deviation of the regression (a measure of how much specific states departed in either direction from the national vote swing) was less than 6 points, again well within the normal range for recent elections.
For purposes of comparison, the table also shows the corresponding regression results from 1932, a genuine realigning election. In that year, one-third of the previous partisan pattern disappeared, the national swing in the popular vote margin was 29 points, and the standard deviation was 16 points—all vastly larger numbers than in 2008 or any other recent election. If 1932 was a realigning election, 2008 was one-third of a realignment—but then, most elections are.

 Posted by  Thomas Niblock

Two days after Senator Obama’s historic victory, the President-Elect has begun assembling the men and women who will guide his decision-making for the next four years. These decisions are among the most important a president can make, and they should be informed by a thorough appraisal of the issues, domestic and foreign, that an Obama administration will likely face. Here are a few to consider:

Regarding Russia. Yesterday, Russian President Medvedev threatened to place ground-to-ground missiles on its western border, install electronic jamming mechanisms to counter new U.S. antimissile systems in Eastern Europe, and end plans to disable Russian nuclear weapons. Is he bluffing?
Regarding Afghanistan. Yesterday, Afghan President Karzai demanded that the U.S. end civilian casualties after a U.S. air strike allegedly killed 39 people at a wedding. NATO forces in Afghanistan routinely use air power to assist counter-insurgency operations. This reduces the number of NATO soldiers killed, which lessens political pressure on host governments to withdraw their forces, but the use of air power under such pressing battlefield conditions and difficult terrain may result in the unintentional deaths of civilians at times. How should these competing priorities be reconciled?
Regarding Guantanamo Bay. During the campaign, Senator Obama pledged to close the U.S. detention facility located there. Roughly 255 detainees remain incarcerated in the facility. Some are hardened terrorists; others are likely innocent. Among the innocent are about a dozen Uighurs, Chinese Muslims who are believed to face persecution if they are returned to China. What should be done with them?
Regarding labor unions. The highest priority for labor unions, one of the Democratic Party’s strongest supporting groups, is passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize without a secret ballot election in the workplace. Given that secret ballot elections are accepted everywhere else in American democracy, why should union organizing be any different?
Regarding campaign finance reform. Senator Obama’s historic victory was enabled by historic fundraising, which would have been impossible if not for a historic decision to forgo public financing of the general election campaign. Is it reasonable to expect future presidential candidates to do the same? 

The writer is a second year graduate student in public policy and international relations in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs from Nevada, Iowa.  His blog on religion and politics can be found at http://thomasniblock.blogspot.com/.

On Friday, October 31, 2008, CSDP and the Brookings Institution held the fourth of five seminars on this year's election: Campaign Effects in the 2008 Election: Money, Ads, and Mobilization.

Moderated by LARRY BARTELS, Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, and THOMAS E. MANN, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution, panelists were: MIKE ALLEN, Politico; ANTHONY CORRADO, Colby College; DIANA MUTZ, University of Pennsylvania; and LYNN VAVRECK, UCLA

Following is a small sampling of intriguing comments -- for the full transcript, click here.

Tony Corrado: With 3.1 million donors, a number that is continuing to grow substantially, [Obama's] in a position now where he will have more than twice as many donors as any presidential candidate in the past. In fact, he’s at a point where he has more donors to his campaign than the national parties each have as donors to their national party. So essentially he has become a party unto himself.
Larry Bartels: I think [the money is] something that worries many Americans. It doesn’t worry political scientists and I think shouldn’t worry people. If you think about the scope of governments and what’s at stake, the amount of money that we’re spending to decide who’s going to run the thing is really pretty modest, right. So we’re spending a billion dollars or $2 billion to decide who’s going to be in charge of a $700 billion bailout plus lots of other stuff that the government does. So I think in any absolute sense, or by comparison with the amount of money that major corporations spend on trying to sell you trivial stuff, the amount of money that’s spent on politics is really not problematic.
Lynn Vavreck: I’m going to start with a number, 80 percent. This is the number that I want you to think about. That’s the percentage of election outcomes you would get right if your guess depended only on the change in GDP from the quarters close to the election. Okay. So if you knew only that, only that single number, you would get the aggregate election outcome right 80 percent of the time. That's the puzzle -- what role can campaigns play in an environment where the structure is so powerful?

Diana Mutz: We found a very nice, very clear effect during the course of the pre-  to post-primary season, where peoples level of cynicism about the influence of money on politics and political outcomes became far less cynical. And this was equally true among Republicans and Democrats, and interestingly, it makes some sense when we think about the course of the primaries, that is, the candidates who were best funded at the very beginning were not the ones who ultimately walked away with the nominations. And that fact seems to have registered with the American public.So when we ask them questions about whether the best funded candidate wins or the best candidate wins or some mix of the two and so forth, although the American public is still cynical about the influence of money, at least as of the end of the primary season, the beginning of the general election season, they were far less so.

Mike Allen: If exactly what happens over the next four days is what we expect, it’ll be the first time in eight years, right, nothing leading up to this election has happened the way we thought.

Professors predict Obama landslide
By Sophia Jih
Published: Wednesday, November 5th, 2008 in The Daily Princetonian

A panel of four Wilson School and politics department faculty members correctly predicted Tuesday evening that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) would win the presidential election by a landslide in an event titled “What We Expect to See Tonight, and What It Will Mean.” The panel, led by Wilson School professor Larry Bartels, discussed the probably reasons for Obama’s likely advantage on election night.

The 2008 election centered on the economy, Associate Wilson School Dean Nolan McCarty said, citing this as a reason for Obama’s lead in the polls.

Bartels said that it has historically been hard for the incumbent party to win an election when the economy was “in bad shape” and that the American electorate has a tendency to “get tired” of a party when it is in office beyond a certain length of time.
Jim Leach ’64, a visiting Wilson School lecturer and former Republican congressman from Iowa, emphasized the importance of a presidential candidate’s campaign advisers.
Obama has the best team of foreign policy and economic advisers “in the history of the American campaign,” Leach said, explaining that a presidency is about both the president himself and the people around him.
Similarly, the candidates’ choices of running mates also worked to Obama’s favor, the panelists said. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s nomination to the Republican presidential ticket “turned off” undecided voters, Bartels explained.
Leach said he expected that the youth vote would rise dramatically this election year. Bartels agreed and added that a majority of the youth vote would go to Obama.
Though Republicans have had a large funding advantage in recent elections, Obama out-raised McCain this election season, he added.
The media analysts would not be quick to call the results Tuesday night, however, Wilson School professor Christopher Achen said. He explained that television networks would be “particularly cautious” about calling states based on exit polls. Television stations often attempt to project that a certain candidate will win a state based on exit polls. This is usually the case for states where previous polling indicates a large lead for one of the candidates, Achen noted. Achen said he expected the networks to be conservative in their projections on Tuesday night because polling tended to be biased toward Obama during the campaign.
Another major question was the number of congressional seats the Democrats would win, McCarty said, predicting that Democrats would take 58 Senate seats and 265 seats in the House.
The Democratic and Independent senators who align with the party need 60 Senate seats to prevent Republicans from blocking legislation by filibuster.
“I think [the presidential race will] be closer than the panelists think,” said Benny Padilla, a graduate student in the Wilson School.
Enbo Wang, a graduate student in the economics department and native Australian, said in an interview that Obama appeared to be favored among international students and that, though he felt McCain had good ideas, “this is not the moment for him.”
“America wins when people vote,” Leach said during the panel. He added that he thought the election was a step of “profound dimensions” for the United States.



 Posted by  Michael Tesler

Recently, Marty Gilens asked about the association between racial resentment and vote choice in this election compared with previous presidential elections, as a comment on Lynn Vavreck's previous entry on this blog.

A historical comparison of the effects of racial resentment on vote intention does indeed provide considerable analytical leverage in figuring out whether Kinder and Sander's racial resentment scale is tapping into anti-black affect or is merely the product of non-racial ideological conservatism. As the figure indicates, the striking difference in effects of racial resentment between the all white presidential contests of the past and early McCain vs. Obama trial heats (the 2008 data is from March strongly suggests that racial resentment is in fact measuring racial predispositions. All else being equal the average effect on GOP vote intention of moving from least to most resentful between 1988 and 2004 was 25 percentage points. Moreover, we see below that the effect of racial resentment on McCain vs. Clinton trial heats fits perfectly in place with this average impact. The McCain vs Obama line, however, shows a 72 point difference between least and most resentful, with the other model variables fixed at their means. While Obama is doing noticeably worse than previous Democratic nominees among the most racially resentful, we see the biggest disparity taking place on the left-hand side of the spectrum. This makes intuitive sense. For if all else really is equalized by the controls, Obama in 2008 is the perfect storm for racial liberals. Not only do they get they get to vote their affective orientation towards African-Americans, but they get to retrospectively vote the Republican Party out of office too.

Same Old, Same Old?

 Posted by  Larry Bartels

One of the things to watch when the election returns (finally!) come in tomorrow night is how the voting behavior of specific states and demographic groups differs from what it has been in recent elections.  In a 1992 book chapter on "The Impact of Electioneering in the United States," I used a scatterplot of state presidential votes from 1984 and 1988 to underline the importance of enduring partisan loyalties in voting behavior.  In a 1998 piece in Electoral Studies  I showed that the stability of voting patterns from one election to the next has been greater since the 1980s than in the previous several decades.

 A recent post by Andrew Gelman shows the corresponding scatterplot for 2000-2004, which shows very modest deviations despite the intervening 2000 election controvery, massive redistributive tax cuts, 9/11 terrorist attacks, and war in Iraq.  Gelman also compares Obama's standing in recent state polls with Kerry's performance in 2004.  Not surprisingly, there is a considerable upward shift, but also a good deal more scatter.  How much of that is due to noise in the polls, and how much to shifts in the underlying partisan landscape?  The answer to that question may provide an early clue to whether 2008 will mark a significant departure from the evenly balanced, highly polarized electoral status quo of the past 20 years.


On October 21, Larry Bartels and Theda Skocpol spoke at a public forum on Inequality and the 2008 Election sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy in Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government:



Election Night 08

For those members of CSDP's extended (and extensive) scholarly community who will be in Princeton this election night, please join us in Robertson Hall on the university campus. Election night activities at the Woodrow Wilson School begin at 7pm in Dodds Auditorium with a panel offering predictions, insights, and analyses: What We Expect to See Tonight and What It Will Mean, featuring comments from: Christopher Achen, Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences, Professor of Politics; Larry Bartels, Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs, Professor of Politics, and Director of CSDP; Rep. James Leach, John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs Visiting Professor; and Nolan McCarty, Susan Dod Brown Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, and Associate Dean, Woodrow Wilson School.

Watch this site as the evening wears on -- WWS MPA students will post their real-time reactions as the votes come in and states are called, on the CSDP Election 2008 blog

About this site

The mission of Princeton’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at the Woodrow Wilson School is to promote empirical research on democratic processes and institutions.  That broad mandate has attracted a diverse collection of faculty, students, and visitors pursuing a wide variety of research topics. However, the American electoral process has been a recurrent focus of interest for many of the scholars associated with CSDP and a frequent topic of conferences, colloquia, and other events sponsored by the Center.  As the 2008 campaign unfolds, we thought it might be helpful and fun to collect the election-related research, analyses, and offbeat insights of our extended scholarly community, both for our own edification and as a resource for others interested in how political scientists are thinking about the election.  We welcome contributions, comments, and suggestions. For more about the people and activities of CSDP, please visit our website, http://www.princeton.edu/~csdp/. To post a comment, click the "speech bubble."

  — Larry M. Bartels, Director

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