The Exceptional Election of 2008: Performance, Values, and Crisis


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: This paper significantly expands upon, revises, and extends a preliminary analysis presented in The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics 6, no. 4 (October 2008),

James E. Campbell is a professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. The author of more than 60 journal articles and book chapters about American politics, his most recent book is the second edition of The American Campaign.


This research examines influences on the 2008 presidential election. With an unpopular Republican president, an unpopular war, and a slumping economy, 2008 looked to be a good year for the Democrats. On the other hand, open seat elections historically have been close and less affected by retrospective considerations. Moreover, partisanship, ideological polarization, and contested nominations in both parties inclined the electorate to an even division. McCain's more centrist record and Obama's race also seemed to favor the Republicans. Taken together, these factors set the stage for a closely decided election. It was shaping up that way in the polls until the Wall Street meltdown hit in mid-September. It was the “game changer” that tipped the election to Obama.