2008 USA general elections
At a time when political space has continued to expand, the capacity to effectively uphold public opinion and articulate high profile political communication forms the basement for improving democratic ideals in the society. Public opinion not only indicates the overall orientation of the majority, but creates the necessary emphasis on the actual pace and trend that should be assimilated by the leadership. Macmanus (2010) concurs with Delli (2004) conclusion that political opinion forms the necessary link between the people, their preferred model of government and governance and checks that align leadership with developmental demands. As a result, public opinion and political communication dictate the present and future of a country’s internal and external growth and development. It is from this consideration that this paper intrinsically evaluates the United States 2008 election campaign to analyze the candidates, strategies employed during the process, representation medium and overall spending. Finally, it examines the holistic mode of campaigning and outlines the necessary recommendations.
A brief analysis of the United States
a) The social structure
According to Margaret and Howard (2007), the United States forms one of the most culturally diverse nations globally. From the historical search for new land, slave trade and massive movement from other nations for education and employment, United States has developed a unique social structure which can be viewed from three dimensions; prestige, power and wealth. At this point three classes that define the social structure are evident.
To begin with, the lower class consists of about 20% of the US population largely from Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic and African Americans descent (Delli, 2004). The middle class often referred as the working class work in the blue-color and white color jobs and therefore have higher level of social security compared to the lower class. On the upper side of the middle class are the bourgeoisie that consists of major managers in sub-executives positions and therefore greater social security compared to the previous two classes. The high class consist the remaining 10% which is considered to include the political elite, top executives, sportsmen, key musician, large business owners and key investors at the local and international arena (Margaret and Howard, 2007). Notably, the presented structure is highly fluid and massive shifts from one class to another are evident all the year round.
b) The political system
As Barbara, Mack and Steffen (2008) explain, United States political system is one of the oldest continuous democracies that stems from late eighteenth century. It follows a federal system which is broken into three key branches. The legislature is responsible for making laws and consists of the House of Representatives (commonly referred as congress) who represent congressional districts in the nation. Then, the Senate (the upper chamber) consists of members democratically elected to represent all the fifty states. Secondly, the executive branch consists of the president who is elected through an Electoral College, the cabinet, and Federal Departments and agencies (Barbara et al, 2008). The last Branch of the political system consists of the judiciary which has the supreme and federal courts.
Candidates in the 2008 campaign
Since time in history, the United States elections involve two candidates sponsored by the two major parties (Republican and Democratic Parties). In the year 2008, the Republican Party presidential nominee was John McCain who defeated other twelve interested candidates in the party primaries (King, 2009). O the other hand, the Democratic Party nominated Barack Obama after a heated contest between him and his close ally Hilary Clinton. Like the Republican Party, other nine interested candidates were involved in the primaries before considering supporting the winner in the primaries. Notably, majority of the Democrats and indeed the whole country were at first skeptical of Obama’s ability, as a black president, to win against John McCain in the presidency. Besides, Barack Obama was considered inexperienced due to his narrow involvement in the country’s complicated top positions demands compared to John McCain who had major insights and two decades political and military experience (Macmanus, 2010).
Strategies employed by candidates during the 2008 campaign
a) Obama’s strategies
Alexander (2008) acknowledges that strategies employed during the 2008 election campaign took a critical combination between personality, experience and technology to edge and redefine the winning position before the voting date. For Barack Obama, he shifted the race reference by billing himself with unique audacity that matched with those great statesmen of the nation such as President Kennedy and Reagan. Macmanus (2010) explains that this strategy sprouted his winning change and hope slogan, ‘yes we can.’ Besides, he capitalized on the unpopular Bush strategies especially operation Iraq Freedom which Americans felt was doing more harm than good to their sons and the country too. At this point, Obama made his promise to bring the troops home; the will of the majority who easily started supporting his school of thought.
As a major strategy, Obama emphasized on his new pool of fresh ideologies that would configure the United States to a more solid superpower position by strengthening its social-cultural and political outsets (Ethridge and Handelman, 2009). This strategy caught the seemingly outstanding experience off-guard and made McCain’s grip very shaky. To further counter his “foreign relations inexperience reference”, Obama selected a running mate, Joe Biden who had great experience. Finally, Obama employed information technology such as phone messaging, internet campaigns and direct campaigning in rallies and major institutions.
b) John McCain’s strategies
Unlike the Obama strategy, John McCain’s main strategy appeared to emphasize on his long term leadership and political experience while bringing out the untested nature of Barack Obama. King (2009) explains that McCain considered his two decades in political leadership of Arizona and previous service in the military to give him a better grip in cracking the nut of giving the United States greater security in relation to its myriad of threats in the globe. This was very wise taking into consideration that the notion of security is indeed very deer to Americans.
Besides, King (2009) explains that McCain strategy sought to reach out to women by selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate. This strategy was deemed to fill the gap left by the democrats’ choice of the seemingly ‘unpopular’ Obama as opposed to Hilary Clinton who was the expectations of many. However, Palin became a center of attacks by major celebrities, media and even youths who were fast becoming polarized towards Obama wave (Macmanus, 2010).
Alexander (2008) argues that unlike Obama who maintained balance in all states, McCain concentrated more on republican’s strongholds which such as South Carolina and New Hampshire. However, this strategy was interpreted as cowardice, a consideration that Obama took to solidify his democrat support while edging to the republican states. McCain further strongly employed endorsements of key senators, governors and representatives to woe more voters from their regions. Macmanus (2010) calls this a super strategy, but indicates that it required stronger support largely from other strategies such as opponent positive counter attacks. Like Obama, McCain also employed modern technology and rallies to gather more support.
Media employed for presenting the candidates to the voters
a) Television use
Unlike other previous campaigns, 2008 campaigns saw great use of information technology by the candidates to present themselves to the voters. To begin with, both candidates strongly used televisions to reach people at their offices and homes. NielsenWire (2008) reports that the final debate between Obama and McCain was watched by over 5.5 million while the second and first debates attracted attention of about 52.4 and 63.2 million viewers respectively. Brian (2008) referred to TV as the best interface between the public and their candidates in that it not only presented the candidates and their viewpoints, but equally created the necessary high profile analysis of their agendas and progress as the voting day drew nearer. It is this popularity that that saw use of media such as newspapers decline as a persuasive tool.
Figure 1: Presidential candidates’ debate and their viewers (NielsenWire, 2008)
b) Use of newspapers
Smith (2009) argues that though newspapers use as a medium for presenting the candidates has declined over time, it remained a key area to gather conclusive analysis of the candidates and their policies. It played an effective role especially for the older conservative generations as opposed to the youths who were more to the television and internet.
Figure 2: Comparison of news access through various media (Smith, 2009)
c) Use of internet during the campaign
In his view, both candidates effectively reached their candidates through the internet which has greatly gained popularity over the last two decade. By using internet, it was possible to incorporate more information, use more attractive adverts and most importantly create an immediate response to the voters. Smith (2009) argues that about 74% of internet users relied on internet to get news on the campaigns; Kaye (2008) and Pewresearch Center (2008) indicate that most of them were willing to move a step further in fundraising and reaching out to their friends to emphasize on their best candidates. Therefore, presentation of the candidates deflected from being their own sole responsibilities to their supporters’ voluntary emphasis. About 49% of Barack Obama supporters shared related messages with others while 29% voters for John McCain equally did so (Smith, 2009).
Figure 3: Internet usage during campaigns by different age groups (Smith, 2009)
Taking technological innovation higher further created an even more solidifying space for the candidates. High tech high-technology employed by Obama allowed his voter to multiply day after day due to direct response and closeness that created the needed alignment with a new advocated ‘hope and change.’ Particularly, twitter, wikis and blogs made voters effectively communicate their demands and therefore solidifying their stand (King, 2009). Response through social networking sites such as facebook and my space were also immediate and held immediate answers to key questions, doubts and concerns that prevented easy deviation to the republican side through stereotyping or negative media publicity (Macmanus, 2010).
Analysts generally agree that election campaigns are largely dependent on the ability to raise and appropriately use of the available. According to Jonathan (2009), Barack Obama made the highest spending in American campaign history despite his refusal to accept state funding. In total Jonathan (2009) and Ethridge and Handelman (2009) report that Obama spent about US $ 740 million which was estimated to be about 30% above McCain’s spending and further surpassed what both George Bush and his opponent John Kerry spent (US $ 646.7 million) in the previous general lection. Notably, the 2008 campaigns made a historical record of surpassing one billion in the history of the nation. Though McCain accepted taxpayers offer of US 84.1 million, both candidates strongly embarked on fundraising from voters to consolidate their spending which was very critical in reflecting their appeal, woe more voters and create a sense of continuity in their proposed policies (Moraine, 2009).
Reasons for Obama winning the election
Though the Obama’s landslide win of the 2008 election has been interpreted differently by analysts, there seen to be concurrence in the following aspects. To begin with, Wenger and MacManus (2009) credit the high level energized communication that emphasized on reaching more people in all states. This communication created a strong shift to future focus while covering his inexperience through emphasis of the need for change and hope. In concurrence with Alexander (2008) argument, Wenger and MacManus (2009.) explain that Obama managed to maintain a solid touch with youths who form the majority in the nation through modern technology and therefore reducing their easy shift to the opposing candidate. However, this meant increased spending in the television adverts and raising the personnel to link millions through phone messaging, social networking and blogging. Finally, (Macmanus, 2010) credits the ability of Obama to read people’s moods, respond to their hottest issues and therefore presenting himself as a critical facilitator and a force to link them with their dream America.
Though there was great use of modern technology in the campaign, it fails the test to fit in the post modern model. Box-Steffernsmeier and Schier (2009) explain that internet use is at its infancy while Ethridge and Handelman (2009) second the view by indicating that older generation preferred the modern methods of the new paper and television. Indeed, both candidates found television as great tool while internet use was still skeptical to them.
It is from the above discussion that this paper concludes by supporting the thesis statement, ‘at a time when political space has continued to expand, the capacity to effectively uphold public opinion and articulate high profile political communication forms the basement for improving democratic ideals in the society.’ 2008 campaign presented a major turning point in the US history by factoring strongly on the need for effective communication between candidates and their voters. It can be said, that the key reason for Obama’s win was effective communication that not only managed to cover his race as an oppressive factor, but effectively brought out his policies, created a space for all, solidified the identity for all and therefore won the loyalty for more democrats and republicans too. Future candidates must therefore use communication as the main tool in anchoring their support at the grassroots.
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