Post-Election Perspectives

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

Speaker: Andrew Kohut

President, Pew Research Center

Venue: 2nd Annual Warren J. Mitofsky Award Dinner, on Behalf of the Roper Center, at the Newseum in Washington, DC

11/13/2008 - Here's my quick review of what happened on Election Day and why.

First, the middle asserted itself. This was not a base election. Independents broke decisively for Obama, favoring him by a 52%-to-44% margin over John McCain. Obama also won an overwhelming 60% of self-identified moderates. By comparison, John Kerry carried 49% of independents and 54% of moderates four years ago.

Second, the political landscape shifted, mirroring pre-election polls that have shown increased Democratic party-affiliation since early 2006. While in 2004 the electorate was equally split along partisan lines, this year it was dramatically more Democratic (39% Democratic vs. 32% Republican).

Call it the Bush effect. The Republican brand has been severely damaged by the presidency of George W. Bush. The financial crisis and falling stock market cannot explain away the GOP's troubles here. Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and a long list of criticisms of the Bush administration created a significantly more advantageous party-identification spread for the Democrats than Bill Clinton had in either of his two victories.

The third important element of this election was the age gap -- the divergence between the candidate preferences of the youngest and oldest voters was the widest in decades, perhaps ever.

More young voters, those ages 18-29, have now moved into the Democratic column in three consecutive national elections -- 2004, 2006 and 2008 -- than in the three previous comparable elections. But the strength of this now strong-Democratic constituency was further enhanced by the presence on the ticket of a candidate who was so appealing to younger voters. From the very start Barack Obama swept them off their feet. Obama won voters under the age of 30 by a dramatic two-to-one margin (66% to 31%). By comparison, Kerry won 54% of voters under 30, while Al Gore was not able to carry even a majority of the young vote (48%) just eight years ago.

But, one surprise here was that, despite predictions to the contrary, turnout among young voters was not disproportionately higher than in 2004.

Read Andrew Kohut's complete remarks on Post-Election Perspectives on the Pew Research Center Web site.

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