In reviewing what many call the most "historical" and "unprecedented" election of our time, Dr. Eric Rauchway took a look at our history's past to examine the role that race, partisanship, the young voting population and other key variables played in electing Barack Obama as our nation's next president.
A professor of history at the University of California-Davis and nationally renowned historian, Rauchway spoke on Tuesday afternoon in the Science Lecture Building, presenting a lecture entitled "The 2008 Election - A Post-Mortem." The event drew several dozen students and a few faculty members, and was sponsored by the history department and the Pi Alpha Theta honors history society.
"When we think about Barack Obama's performance in the presidential election, we think about it in the perspective of the sort of, 'historic firsts,'" Rauchway said. "Not only is he the dramatically first African American president - he's the first northern Democrat, the first from the New Deal, progressive wing of the party, not to have that break of the conservative segregationalist south on his electoral coalition."
While much of the media focus has been on Obama's race as playing a major factor in the election, Rauchway argued that his partisanship, and ability to win the presidency without electoral support in the south, was considerably more noteworthy than his being of a minority race.
"Race was important in this election, but not in the way that we initially might have thought," he said. "Yes, Obama gets 95 percent of the black vote, but the generic democrat probably would have gotten 90 percent or so. Kennedy's election in 1960 is more remarkable in relation to his minority status than Obama's was in 2008."
Taking race out of the equation then, how did many political scientists foresee an Obama presidency, well before the ballot boxes were closed? According to Rauchway, in the last presidential term, the states as a whole have taken a large shift to the liberal side.
"Almost everybody is a little more democratic than they were four years ago," he said, using a chart to demonstrate statistics of U.S. partisanship over the last four years. "Basically the whole country shifted a few percentage points in the direction of Obama.So maybe the story doesn't have anything to do with race after all, maybe it only has something to do with an overall shift toward the Democrats."
Partisan or not, this year's election season certainly generated buzz among the college population, as a majority of UC-Davis students registered to vote, and many spoke out in strong support of presidential candidates. Rauchway pointed out that there was a slight national increase in the number of college-age voters, and a huge increase in partisan support, with 60 percent of voters under 25 in favor of Barack Obama.
Spencer Piatt, a junior international relations major who attended the lecture, felt that Rauchway's points addressed many valuable aspects of the election.
"I thought it was interesting how he disproved race as the major factor in Obama winning since it's been so talked about," he said.
James Estes, a junior history major and vice president of Pi Alpha Theta, also agreed with the message of Rauchway's lecture.
"It's important, hearing about the impact of the elections and what's going to affect us as young people looking forward," he said. "For a lot of us, it was the first election that we were able to vote in, and the charts that he put up about how the youth vote ws so important really showed that a lot of young people felt that it was a time for change."