On Historic Day, Political Scientists Take the Long View





The country just elected its first African-American president, a historic event capping a nearly two-year campaign of shattered fund-raising records, massive voter turnout and unprecedented participation in politics. Academics may be savoring the moment, but political scientists, at least, are more interested in how very ordinary it was.

Political science, as a discipline, tends to take the long view, developing models over time that explain the workings of the government and the electorate — who votes, how parties align themselves, why elections turn out the way they do.

As it turns out, some of the models political scientists have been using for years to predict the outcomes of national elections — taking into account factors like the popularity of the incumbent, party identification and economic indicators — weren’t tossed aside along with the many other fragments of conventional wisdom that were upended during the campaign. In fact, they were validated.

And while commentators are already marveling at the milestone reached Tuesday, many political scientists see it in a way that perhaps only data-driven academics could: as one more “data point” around which to test existing theories about racial attitudes and governing.

“The models were correct in that they predicted an Obama victory, a Democratic victory, and that’s what resulted. So in that sense, given the state of the economy, given the popularity of the incumbent, you’d expect a Democrat to win,” said John Sides, a professor of political science at George Washington University.

For all the talk about Hillary Clinton’s supporters shifting over to John McCain, for example, or McCain losing support within the Republican Party, both candidates ended up with roughly equal support within their parties. “We live in an era of very strong party loyalty, and this election is really no different,” Sides said.


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Lou McDade - 11/6/2008

Yes, what transpired on Nov. 4th is certainly historic. I continue to have some concern over what is known as party loyalty.
Perhaps some of the citizenry has overcome the racial divide in choosing a bi-racial candidate but has the same populace refused to evolve in regards to this thing known as party loyalty?
At what point do Americans begin to vote objectively as opposed to subjectively? When do American's finally begin to step outside of what they feel comfortable with and begin to ask themselves "why" they believe the way they do?

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