In the 2008, democratic candidate Barack Obama defeated republican John McCain in a landslide victory, winning 53% of the vote and 365 of the 538 potential delegates. Through his youthful image and promise for change, he convinced voters that he could bring the country back to prosperity amidst economic turmoil and chaos abroad. Despite his relative lack of experience, Obama’s campaign successfully convinced voters that he was the right man for the job.
In 64 BC, Quintus Cicero established many of the modern principles behind campaigning in a note to his brother, who was at the time running for political office in Rome. In his letter, he established the need for a candidate to establish a favorable image through good deeds “natural charm” that voters would look favorably upon. In balancing a fierce political persona with a relatable and friendly image, Obama took this advice to heart. Part of establishing this persona was showing himself to be a family man - In the words of Deborah Atwater, “Senator Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha, [represent] an American ideal.” He used his family to represent the families of all Americans, making him relatable to people who share similar lives and similar values to him.
In addition, while viewing the support from the more powerful members of society, Cicero saw the everyday people and particularly young citizens as the most important to carry an election. These principles were particularly evident in Obama’s campaign; his youthful and charismatic image showed voters that he was a man of the people, and his youth made young voters particularly drawn to him. Just as Cicero tells his brother to “stick to vague generalities” rather than uninspired statistics to help build this favorable image, Obama stuck to the campaign slogans of “hope” and “change” that empowered his image.
This campaign poster, created by Shepard Fairy, epitomizes the youthful and inspirational image that Obama built in his campaign. In a political rally shortly before the election, he characterized the choice Americans were making, saying that “in six days, we can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo.” Through Cicero’s stress on a candidate’s image, he inspired voters and made them drawn to him as a presidential candidate.Obama’s image lead to a revolution in campaign financing. According to Jeanne Cummings, his inspirational and relatable image created a revolution in campaign financing. “The primary engine behind the Democratic gains is the upstart campaign of Obama,” she writes; “his new face and soaring rhetoric draws huge crowds on the campaign trail that can turn thousands of $5 donations into real money.” Even though the majority of his financing was through small donations, his ability to inspire a broad base of voters made his campaign a huge success, both in financing and in support.
Perhaps Obama’s greatest success in his campaign was his ability to rally all types of americans, establishing himself as a man for all people rather than representative of a select few. In his acceptance speech, he showed why he was a president of people from all different backgrounds, and why his campaign was so successful: “It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America.” Because he appealed to people of so many different backgrounds, he came into office with a 70% approval rating, one of the highest in American history.
Atwater, Deborah. “Senator Barack Obama; The Rhetoric of Hope and the American Dream.” Journal of Black Studies 38, no. 2 (November 2007): 121-29.
Baker, Peter, and Jeff Zeleny. “Obama Repeats a Campaign Staple: Time for Change.” New York Times, October 29, 2008.
Burnside, Randolph, and Kami Whitehurst. “From the Statehouse to the White House?: Barack Obama’s Bid to Become the Next President.” Journal of Black Studies 38, no. 1 (September 2009): 75-89. Accessed October 10, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40034403.
Cummings, Jeanne. “Small Donors Rewrite Fundraising Handbook.” Politico, September 26, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012. http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=3ECB3515-3048-5C12-004D622CB6F4E214.
Federal Election Commission. “2008 Official Presidential General Election Results.” Federal Election Commission. Last modified January 22, 2009. Accessed October 10, 2012. http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/fe2008/2008presgeresults.pdf.
Obama, Barack. “Barack Obama’s Acceptance Speech in Chicago, Ill.” Speech, Grant park, Chicago, November 4, 2008.