Economic Crisis, Iraq, and Race: A Study of the 2008 Presidential Election

Seth J. Hill, Michael C. Herron, Jeffrey B. Lewis
2010 Election Law Journal  
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was the beneficiary of a nationwide swing in November, 2008: he outperformed 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry across nearly the entire country. Nonetheless, there was substantial local variation in the degree to which support for Obama exceeded the support given to Kerry four years earlier. With this in mind we show that county-level variation in (1) economic conditions, (2) the human cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and (3)
more » ... n and Iraq, and (3) sizes of African-American and Latino populations together account for a major share of the variation in the 2008 pro-Obama swing. Our estimates suggest that the downturn in the housing and mortgage markets and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq greatly advantaged Obama, increasing his national vote share by at least 5.8 percentage points. We also find that, within Southern states but not elsewhere in the country, the degree to which Obama outperformed Kerry across individual counties was strongly increasing in the size of African-American populations. The 2008 presidential election took place in the shadow of a national economic crisis characterized by the bursting of a housing bubble, a sharp decline in financial markets, and growing unemployment. In addition, by late 2008 many Americans looked upon the ongoing and large-scale military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq with increasing skepticism. Beyond these weighty domestic and foreign matters, the 2008 presidential contest was historic: the Democratic nominee in the race offered Americans an opportunity to vote for the first African-American candidate with a meaningful chance to win the presidency.
doi:10.1089/elj.2009.0049 fatcat:ko4rzmp7xvaajos4t6lhimscxi