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Ten quick lessons from the US election

For the US political junkies out there, the BBC's Nick Bryant provides "Ten quick and easy lessons" from this break-the-rules election.

1. NORTHERN DEMOCRATS ARE VIABLE AGAIN

With all the excitement surrounding the first black presidency, it is easy to forget that Barack Obama is the first northern Democrat to win since JFK.

Barack Obama at his election night party in Chicago on 4 November 2008
Obama will be the first northern Democratic president in 45 years

Largely because of the fall-out from civil rights reforms of the 1960s, after which the Democrats lost their grip on the South, every Democratic President has come from below the Mason Dixon Line.

Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and, the diehards would contest, Al Gore.

Northern Democrats are back in the game.

2. LIBERAL DEMOCRATS ARE VIABLE AGAIN

When liberals have run for the presidency in recent times - Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis and John Kerry - they have been beaten. When centrists have run - Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and JFK (yes, Adlai Stevenson was the liberal darling in 1960, while Kennedy was deeply distrusted by the party's progressive wing) - they have won. Barack Obama breaks that rule.

"Liberal" used to be the most toxic word in US politics. But the L-word has now lost much of its fear factor.

3. SENATORS ARE VIABLE AGAIN

For the past 40 years, Americans have preferred their presidential candidates to have executive experience. Ronald Reagan (California), Jimmy Carter (Georgia) and Bill Clinton (Arkansas) were governors. Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, George HW Bush and Gerald Ford had racked up the frequent flyer miles on Air Force Two.

JFK was the last sitting senator to become president. Before that, you have to reach back to Warren Harding in 1920. Senators have pesky voting records which hand opponents valuable ammunition - just look at how President Bush went after John Kerry's votes on Iraq. But this year, the three strongest candidates - Mr Obama, Mr McCain and Hillary Clinton - were all senators.

4. PALMER EFFECT MORE POWERFUL THAN BRADLEY EFFECT

Remember David Palmer, the fictional black president in the hit TV show 24?

Dennis Haysbert  was 24's black president
All in a day's work - Dennis Haysbert was 24's black president

I do not know whether there is any data to back this up, but my hunch is that he helped create a climate of public acceptance for the notion of a black president.

I reckon the Palmer effect was more significant than any Bradley effect. (The so-called distortion in opinion polls caused by voters who don't want to vote for a black candidate, but won't admit that to pollsters.)

5. SOCIAL PROMISCUITY IS REALLY HELPFUL

Sexual promiscuity has derailed many candidacies, but web-based social promiscuity is definitely the way forward. Facebook and MySpace were used with devastating effect by the Obama campaign. So, too, his own beautifully-designed website. Its organisational and money-making power were extraordinary and election-changing.

Barack Obama has become the commander-in-chief by being the social networker-in-chief. If Jack Kennedy was arguably the most telegenic presidential candidate that America has seen, then Mr Obama is surely its most web-genic.

6a. MUCH OF THE US POLITICAL MAP STAYS THE SAME

Some of the pages in that dog-eared atlas of US political geography stay the same. Iowa and New Hampshire continue to wield a disproportionate measure of influence, despite what has now become the quadrennial attempt by other states to push them to the fringes. Senator Kerry used victory in Iowa to propel him to the nomination. Obama did the same. New Hampshire was vital for getting Hillary Clinton back in the game, as it was for John McCain.

Many of the old favourite battleground states remain as important as ever. The old rule that Republicans cannot win without Ohio remains in place. And clearly it is very tricky to win without Florida.

6b. MUCH OF THE US POLITICAL MAP NEEDS SOME ATTENTION

We are now seeing some new swing states. Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico.

7. DEBATES ARE REINFORCING NOT TRANSFORMATIONAL

In post-debate coverage, how many times have we heard that dreadful cliche, "neither candidate delivered a knock-out punch"? Well, they rarely do.

Obama and McCain after a debate
No knock-out blows were landed in the 2008 debates

It was the cumulative effect of Kennedy's first debate performance against Nixon, rather than a single moment, that had such a dramatic impact. Similarly, Gerald Ford knocked himself out, when he made the mistake of saying that Poland was not a Soviet satellite state.

In 1984, Walter Mondale says he knew he had lost the moment in the televised debate when Ronald Reagan said he would never look to take political advantage of his opponent's youth and inexperience.

But mostly the debates reinforce impressions of candidates rather than alter them dramatically.

(The best line ever, of course, was Lloyd Bentsen's famous putdown of Dan Quayle - "Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy". But remember who ended up vice-president?)

8. THE VETERAN PROBLEM

Nobody doubts John McCain's remarkable story of wartime bravery. But does it help to be a hero?

For the fifth election running, the candidate with the more heroic or convincing war record has lost. McCain against Obama.

Kerry and Gore against Bush. Bob Dole against Bill Clinton and Bush Sr against Clinton.

9. DYNASTIC POWER HAS TAKEN A HIT

No Bushes or Doles will occupy any vital seats of power in Washington for donkeys' years, despite the two dynasties between them having done so for the past 56. Hillary Clinton did not bring about a restoration. Mitt Romney fizzled. Senator John Sununu lost in New Hampshire. The pulling power of a dynastic surname seems to have lost some of its lustre (although Tom Udall won the New Mexico Senate race).

10. WHAT IS IT ABOUT ARIZONA SENATORS?

Like John McCain, Barry Goldwater, the GOP presidential candidate in 1964, was an Arizonan senator, a former pilot, a maverick and a straight-talker. He commandeered a plane during the 1964 convention in San Francisco to buzz the convention below.

Arizonan senators with a love of dare devil aeronautics and devil-may-care linguistics? Don't call us, we'll call you.

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Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
365
McCain - Republican
173
Select from the list below to view state level results.


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