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Comprehending the Barack Obama Victory


The Sikh Times, Nov. 10, 2008

Photo: Barack Obama

Only In America?

Lately I have grown a bit tired of the 'Only in America' sentiment that has been going around in the aftermath of Barack Obama's historic win in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections.

I am proud to have been a very early supporter of Obama's candidacy. I joined his Facebook fan club when he was a long shot for the Democratic Party's nomination and had 300K odd fans. He now has 2.5M fans on Facebook.

However, we ought to remember that there are many other nations that have been electing women and other minorities as heads of state, in some cases since decades ago.

Women have been elected heads of state in the U.K. (Margaret Thatcher), Canada (Kim Campbell), India (Indira Gandhi) and elsewhere.

See the following link for a much longer list.

Similarly, ethnic minorities have been elected/appointed to the top in France (Sarkozy), Peru (Fujimori), Argentina (Menem), India (Manmohan Singh), Bolivia (Morales), Venezuela (Chavez) and elsewhere.

Barack Obama's election is a huge milestone for America, but let's maintain a reasonable perspective. The winner in the U.S. baseball leagues isn't the world champion and Obama's victory, while commendable, rests on the shoulders of many other nations that have elected minorities to the top.

The White Vote

It is well known that Barack Obama won the vote in many demographic segments including the college educated, the youth, most (if not all) minority groups, and women.

However, there is a misconception among most people that he did poorly among whites.

It is true that Obama got a minority of the white vote. He received 43% as compared to John McCain's 55%. Hence, a 12 point spread.

However, it is critical to note how Obama's performance among whites compares with that of previous Democratic Party nominees. Many people aren't aware that the Democratic Party has traditionally struggled to win the white vote. Obama's 12 point spread is actually the same as that of Al Gore in 2000 and better than John Kerry's 17 point spread in 2004.

Apparently, no Democrat has won a majority of the white vote since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. And L.B.J. was the only Democrat to win the white vote since Franklin D. Roosevelt won it in 1932.

Further reading.

The Black Vote

Conversely, I've also been hearing people assert that perhaps Barack Obama won the 2008 U.S. presidential election primarily due to the black vote. I don't believe that is the case. Let me explain why.

The Democratic Party has been winning the black vote by huge margins (high 80s) since the black majority shifted from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party starting with, you guessed it, F.D.R. in 1932.

Obama won 95% of the black vote, which is only 1% higher than the previous record of 94% set by L.B.J. in 1964, following L.B.J.'s support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (The Voting Rights Act of 1965 further strengthened the Democratic Party's credentials for the black vote.)

Obama's 7 point spread with respect to the overall popular vote (Obama's 53% versus McCain's 46%) is better than many including Bush (2000, 2004), Carter, Nixon (1968), J.F.K.

Obama's electoral college majority (364 versus 163, with Missouri still pending) is at the Clinton levels and is again better than many including Bush (2000, 2004), Carter, Nixon (1968), J.F.K.

Finally, the 2008 voter turnout has been estimated at 64%. The previous voter turnout record was 63% for Kennedy/Nixon. The Bush/Kerry turnout in 2004 was 56%. The 20% increase in the 2008 black voter turnout (from 11% to 13%) is entirely in proportion to the 20% increase in overall voter turnout (from 56% to 64%).