As Richard Nixon wrote, “history is written by liberals,” but the story of the 2008 campaign is too important to cede to them the analysis of what happened. A close analysis of the returns indicates several key realities:
a) Sarah Palin made a vast difference in McCain’s favor. Compared to 2004, McCain lost 11 points among white men, according to the Fox News exit poll, but only four points among white women. Obama’s underperformance among white women, evident throughout the fall, may be chalked up, in large part, to the influence of Sarah Palin. She provided a rallying point for women who saw their political agenda in terms larger than abortion. She addressed the question of what it is like to be a working mother in today’s economy and society and resonated with tens of millions of white women who have not responded to the more traditional, and liberal, advocates for their gender.
b) Turnout did not increase substantially. Despite predictions (by me and others) of a vastly greater voter turnout, it didn’t happen. About 127 million people voted in 2008, compared to 122 million in 2004. By contrast, turnout rose by almost 20 million between 2000 and 2004. The emphasis on early voting and the heavy participation in primaries indicated the likelihood of a huge increase in turnout, but, on Election Day, the turnout was modest.c) The black vote made a huge difference; but young people did not. Obama, as expected, generated a big increase in African-American voter turnout. Fox News’s exit polls estimate that blacks constituted 13 percent of the turnout in 2008, compared with 11 percent in 2004 and 10 percent in 2000. But voters under 30 years of age were still the same 11 percent of the vote that they were in 2004.