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.