Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Obama's 2008 Campaign - Alison LePard

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.

“Election Results 2008: Exit Polls.” Chart. The New York Times. November 5, 2008. Accessed October 10, 2012.

Fairey, Shepard. Hope. 2008.

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.

“Signs of Hope & Change.” YouTube. Video file. Posted by BarackObamadotcom, September 1, 2008.


  1. I can make a connection between Eisenhower's election in 1952 and Obama's election. When Eisenhower was elected, television was relatively new and Eisenhower's ads television were a big change in the way candidates campaigned. In Obama's campaign, he was one of the first, if not the first Presidential candidate to utilize so much social media to get his message out. It is interesting that depending on the time period, the way the candidates can use the available types of media in their own benefit to get their name out to voters and their ideas heard.

  2. Obama's strategy of appealing to minorities and youth is largely the opposite of the 1968 campaign, where the candidates tried to distance themselves as far as they could from youth and minorities without explicitly condemning them by calling themselves law&order candidates. Other than Civil Rights movement, what do you think has caused this kind of difference?

  3. Elsa, I definitely agree that the use of media is an important factor in their campaigns. I am not as familiar with Adlai Stevenson , Eisenhower's opponent, and his use or lack of use of media. But In Obama's campaign John McCain, Obama's opponent, did not utilize the new medias to the same degree or amount that Obama's campaign did and I believe this is reason for his defeat. I think the media is an important part in winning the youth vote and the election.

    Sam, I think the shift is the increase in population of minorities and the increase in voter registration of these groups within the past several decades. In my sources they talked about how as time has gone on there has been a steady increase in voter registration and voting for minority groups. Also in 1971 the voting age went down to 18 rather than 21, another this may seem like a small number there was also an increase involvement in politics and current events making the once seeming insignificant group has increased. So I believe that as these groups have become a greater presence among voters there has been a greater NEED to appeal to them unlike the 1968 election

  4. I noticed that you did not mention much about Obama's opponent, McCain. Do you think that Obama won purely because he ran a better campaign or did McCain also make blunders that led to his defeat?

  5. I noticed similarly to Sam that Reagan won the 1980 election not by appealing to the youth vote but instead to the more middle-aged and middle-class "moral majority" who sought stability after the turbulence of the 60s and 70s and the radical youth and liberal movements that had arisen, What policies of the Bush administration do you think made Obama appeal to younger voters rather than Reagan who appealed to older voters seeking a "return to normalcy"?