The November elections heralded big changes in American politics, and not just because of the new faces that will appear in political posts around the country, according to a panel of political experts that convened on Nov. 21 at Fordham College at Rose Hill.
The 2008 elections broke new ground in many areas, including fundraising, campaign finance, primary contests and race, the scholars said.
The Internet emerged as a strong force in the race and, in a way, was another winner in this election cycle, said Costas Panagopoulos, Ph.D., professor of political science and director of Fordham’s Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy.
“[The Internet] has really revolutionized the way we think about campaigns in the 21st century,” he said.
Four scholars participated in the event, the Fordham Forum on American Politics, which is run by the Department of Political Science and sponsored by the deans of Fordham College at Rose Hill and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. It was moderated by Richard Fleisher, Ph.D., a Fordham political science professor.
Panagopoulos said one loser of the race was the system of public financing for presidential campaigns, which Obama opted out of so he could rely on his own prodigious fundraising operation. “As it is now, it is basically defunct,” he said of the public financing system for presidential candidates.
The election also showed that racial attitudes are poised to play a greater role in future elections, said Monika McDermott, Ph.D., also a Fordham political science professor.
“We definitely haven’t moved past negative racial attitudes in America,” she said, describing how race cost Obama some votes among late-deciding swing voters and voters who cast their ballots for Democrat John Kerry in 2004.
“Not only was [race]hyperimportant, but it seems like it’s going to be ever more important in future elections,” she said.
The election was also notable for the insurgents that captured each major party’s nomination, said John Coleman, Ph.D., a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin.
Democrat Hillary Clinton started out as the better-organized candidate, but Barack Obama won through smart strategy, such as focusing on states where the nominee is chosen through a party caucuses rather than a public primary, Coleman said.
Clinton lacked a strong strategy for the caucus states, and Obama saw he could turn the tide in those states with relative ease, Coleman said.
“That’s where she lost the Democratic nomination,” he said.
Panagopoulos said Obama’s formidable fundraising doesn’t completely explain his victory. He noted the big financial advantage of one Republican contender, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who lost the nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain.
“[The 2008 election] showed that there are limited conclusions that we can extract from who these front runners are,” he said.
William Mayer, Ph.D., of Northeastern University said the election was more a reflection on George W. Bush than on Barack Obama. “Voters took their anger out on the Republican Party” on Nov. 4 because Bush wasn’t on the ballot, he said.
Another Fordham political science professor, Jeffrey Cohen, Ph.D., said from the audience that the current economic crisis matters more to the fortunes of the two major parties than does any detailed analysis of their respective strengths and weaknesses.
“The country is in an economic catastrophe. That is going to subsume everything else,” he said. “We’re not going to have positional politics being played between the parties.
“The Democrats running government must prove that they can correct the economy, or their goose is cooked,” he said.