The votes have been tallied… Barack Obama will be the 44th President. The Democratic Party will control both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, but it appears the Democrats did not achieve a 60% “supermajority” in the Senate. It was a decisive Electoral College victory, with previously solid “Red States” such as Ohio and Virginia going blue. Obama also won the popular vote, 52% vs. 46% percent for McCain.
What can we learn from the results? There are some surprises. First, male voters split evenly 49% for McCain, 49% for Obama. Women and young people decided this election. Here are some interesting facts:
1. The Democrats did a good job of stirring interest in the election. The total number of voters (including absentees) tallied 136,000,000, or roughly 64% of the electorate. That would make this the highest turnout since 1960, and possibly since 1908. What did it take to achieve this? A huge war-chest. It is estimated that the Obama campaign spent as much as $650,000,000 overall — an unprecedented number.
2. While minorities (both African-American and Latino) voted overwhelmingly for Obama, that didn’t cost the Republicans the election. McCain lost because of women and under-age-30 voters. As during the Clinton years, there was a significant “gender gap” — 55% of women favored the Democratic ticket. Seventy (70%) percent of unmarried women supported Obama, a margin of more than 2-to-1. Among married women, 53% voted for Obama vs. 45% for McCain. As in past elections, there is evidence that a significant percentage of women voted for the candidate they found most attractive (regardless of his politics).
3. The “age gap” was even more dramatic. Obama captured the overwhelming majority of under-30 voters. According to msnbc.com: “Young voters preferred Obama over John McCain by 68% to 30% — the highest share of the youth vote obtained by any candidate since exit polls began reporting results by age in 1976.” Obama’s election team successfully galvanized the young voters, who turned out in record numbers. Report on Youth Vote.
4. Among all voters, the economy was a key issue. Exit polls showed that fully 90% of voters felt the economy was “not in good shape”. 80% of voters polled believed that their family would be harmed financially in the next year because of the economic downturn. These concerns caused independents to vote for Obama, and caused many Republicans to cross party lines, particularly in the Northeast.
5. McCain got swamped in the Electoral College system, though the aggregate popular vote was closer than you might expect: 52.33% for Obama vs. 46.38% for McCain. This will again lead many to question the merits of the Electoral College system, particularly as it works with “all or nothing” states such as California. Every one of California’s 55 electoral votes went to Obama yet 3.7 million Californians voted for McCain.
Message for Republicans and Gun Owners
It’s not widely known, but Bill Clinton lost both his Presidential elections among male voters. He was victorious only because of a significant “gender gap”, with women voters favoring him significantly over his opponents. Barack Obama also benefitted from a “gender gap”, but Obama’s popularity with women, particularly unmarried women, was even more significant. Both Obama and Clinton were perceived as handsome and charismatic. Studies have shown that unmarried women look to male Presidential candidates as surrogate “providers”. Obama did a superb job of appealing to this segment of the electorate. In the future, if Republicans want to win, they must not underestimate the importance of women voters. That did explain, in part, McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Palin, but among many women voters, that choice back-fired. The Democrats understood that unmarried women don’t necessarily want a female candidate. What many women really want is a charismatic male candidate — a matinee idol/protector figure.
The Republican party will also have to examine its “youth strategy”, which failed miserably in this election. Some pundits predicted that the youth vote would fizzle, because the Gen-Xers were lazy and apathetic. Well, this election proved those cynics wrong. If the Republican party intends to get “back on track”, it must provide a candidate and platform that better appeal to young voters.
As for gun rights advocates, the message is quite clear. We must organize, fight harder, and expand the base. One central theme of this website has been to attract new shooters, particularly women and young people. The results of the 2008 election demonstrate that it is more important than ever to draw females and young people into the shooting sports.
The numbers from the election show that gun rights supporters should re-double their efforts to reach across party lines, to appeal to those who may potentially be allies in the Second Amendment fight, but who, for a myriad of reasons, do not fit into traditional “red state” or Republican constituencies. In essence, the challenge is to provide compelling reasons for women, youth, and others (whatever their party affiliation) to involve themselves in the shooting sports and to support Second Amendment rights. The more that Second Amendments rights are seen, by Americans of all ideologies, as an important cornerstone of a free society (as distinct from a partisan issue), the more secure those rights will be.