Get access

Insiders, Outsiders, and Voters in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election


Melvin J. Hinich is Mike Hogg Professor in the Department of Government and a research professor in the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas at Austin. His recent books include Topics in Analytical Political Economy and Analytical Politics (with Michael Munger).

Daron R. Shaw is a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. His recent books include Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths about American Voters (with Karen Kaufmann and John Petrocik) and The Race to 270.

Taofang Huang is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include voting behavior, political psychology, and minority politics.


In 2008, both Barack Obama and John McCain repeatedly talked about “reform” and “change” on the campaign trail, presumably believing that voters would respond to a president who could challenge the established way of doing business. The authors gauge the significance of “reform” politics in 2008 through two analyses. First, they estimate a two-dimensional issue space, paying particular attention to the possibility of a reform/establishment dimension. Second, they consider whether voters (1) preferred reform candidates, and (2) saw Obama or McCain as credible reform candidates. The data indicate the existence of a reform–establishment dimension. However, neither Obama nor McCain effectively convinced voters that they were reformers.