President Barack Obama was elected on November 8, 2008, making history by becoming the first African American President of the United States. Obama was successful in using traditional techniques and strategies to win the election, such as grass roots campaigning, innovative technology, and celebrity endorsements. His campaign also incorporated some of the ideas from Cicero, a general and politician from Ancient Rome, proving that despite the seemingly drastic time difference, these political principles and approaches remain effective.
Quintus Tullius Cicero lived from 103-43 BC, however today we still study his essay, Campaign Tips From Cicero: The Art of Politics, From the Tiber to the Potomac, a letter written to his brother Marcus Tullius Cicero, who planned to run for office. One of the techniques Cicero advocates is the idea of being a chameleon or slightly adjusting one’s behavior and views to the crowd a candidate is addressing and giving that particular group of people a feeling of hope. In addition, Cicero advises candidates not to leave “Rome,” meaning they cannot take a vacation while campaigning, they must remain focused on the campaign and the issues. This continuous connection with voters reminds them of one’s candidacy and shows the candidate’s dedication to the campaign.
Using these campaign techniques, despite being ancient principles, Barack Obama found success during his candidacy in 2008. One of Obama’s strong points in appealing to a large voting base was his choice of Joe Biden, an established Senator from Delaware. By choosing Biden, Obama helped calm many fears surrounding his lack of experience, having merely served as a Freshman Senator from Illinois and having no foreign affairs experience. Biden provided voters with a sense of security, having served 36 years in congress and serving on the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations. Obama diversified his ticket, making it appeal to a greater amount of voters--particularly older voters. Biden also was a vice presidential candidate who would not alienate the middle class, which was critical. Obama stated himself when he announced his running mate at the 2008 Democratic National Convention that,” Joe Biden is that rare mix - for decades, he has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn't changed him. He's an expert on foreign policy whose heart and values are rooted firmly in the middle class.” His experience made him an effective politician but his down to earth image connected him to citizens.
Furthermore, Obama seamlessly navigated between the different groups of Americans, appealing to a wide number of ethnic and racial groups. It was found in exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research and reported by The New York Times, that one of the driving reasons for Obama’s success was his ability to gain a majority of votes from minority groups of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Some of this success was not only due to his own cultural heritage but also his strategy to appeal and campaign in highly concentrated areas with these racial and ethnic groups. Obama’s ability to gain the support of these minority groups proves that by becoming a chameleon, one can achieve great success.
Obama was accomplished at consistently campaigning and getting his message out to voters. Upon announcing his candidacy on February 10, he immediately embarked upon speaking engagements and campaign stops to get his message out to voters. He also recognized to reach younger voters; a candidate must be delivering his message through current technology and social media, as a means to stay connected and to stay relevant.
Obama also incorporated the work of Shepard Fairy, a graffiti, who as gained notoriety through the internet and his clothing line Obey, into his campaign as a means of connecting with young voters:
Obama proved that, in a successful modern election, one must use today’s social media, such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to appear accessible to voters. These websites allow candidates to have a continuous feed and flow of information. They essentially create a 24-hour news cycle, which can be updated on a minute-by-minute basis. Messages are not diluted because they are crafted to match the attention span of the voters. This use of social media gave Obama not only a great appeal but also a direct connection with younger voters. A parallel can be drawn with President John F. Kennedy’s use of television in his campaign against Richard Nixon and Obama’s use of the Internet, both relatively new technologies at the time of their elections.
This Internet also helped increase access for grassroots campaigning, which greatly benefited Obama. In his campaign’s “Closing Argument,” Obama thanked many of his dedicated supporters stating, “That's how we've come so far and so close - because of you. That's how we'll change this country - with your help.” As a result of following the grassroots idea of “Think nationally, act locally,” Obama was able to motivate and mobilize many young people to get involved in his campaign. This is depicted in the following advertisement.
By motivating voters, establishing a personal connection, and focusing on the middle class, Obama was able to gain the support to win the election.
Finally one of the most important techniques used by Obama were his many celebrity endorsements. Similar to President Warren Harding, who was endorsed by many film stars during his 1920 election campaign, candidate Barack Obama found enormous support among influential celebrities who used their influence to sway their fans in his favor. Although movie stars were important figures in America during the 20s, they did not have the access and visibility of today’s celebrities. In the 2008 election, celebrities such as Jay-Z, Jennifer Aniston, and Orpah Winfrey endorsed Obama. Due to their influence and mass appeal, celebrities can make a huge impact for a candidate. Oprah alone has increased the sales of books by 100 times, placing their titles on the list for “Oprah’s Book Club.” Connections with certain celebrities can be quite powerful for the general public; their opinions are trusted and they have the power to sway voters.
In conclusion, Barack Obama’s use of tried and true campaign techniques advocated by Cicero as well as those seen in campaigns of former presidents, such as Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy were successful in today’s world. Obama skillfully and effectively adapted these techniques using today’s technology and culture. As a result, Obama was able to run a successful national campaign, with grassroots elements, appealing to a broad spectrum of voters.
The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/.
“Election Results 2008: Exit Polls.” Chart. The New York Times. November 5, 2008. Accessed October 10, 2012. http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/results/president/exit-polls.html.
Fairey, Shepard. Hope. 2008. http://worldfamousdesignjunkies.com/billboard/shepard-fairey-x-barack-obama-retrospective/attachment/obama-hope-sheppard-feirey1/.
Garthwaite, Craig, and Tim Moore. “The Role of Celebrity Endorsements in Politics: Oprah, Obama, and the 2008 Democratic Primary.” Columbia University: Department of Statistics.
Obama, Barack. “Presidential Campaign ‘Closing Argument.’” Speech transcript, Canton, OH, October 27, 2008.
———. “Remarks Introducing Senator Joseph Biden as the 2008 Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee.” Speech transcript, Democratic National Convention, Springfield, IL, August 23, 2008.
Park, Jennifer. “3 a.m. Call: Why Obama Picked Biden.” ABC News. Last modified August 23, 2008. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2008/08/biden-vp-pick-p/.
“Signs of Hope & Change.” YouTube. Video file. Posted by BarackObamadotcom, September 1, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcRA2AZsR2Q.