Book Review: How Barack Obama Won

ImageThe simple answer to the question how did Barack Obama win the 2008 election would be that people wanted change, but as MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and Sheldon Gawiser reveal in their book How Barack Obama Won that the reasons for Obama’s victory aren’t as simple as you might think.

How Barack Obama Won is worth reading if only for Chuck Todd’s 48 page introduction that analyzes the 2008 race. One of Todd’s major points is that Barack Obama won because he could tell people why he was running for president. He points out that neither Clinton nor McCain could ever clearly explain why they were running, and if a candidate can’t tell voters why they are in the race, they usually also struggle to explain to voters why they should support them. Obama was clear about why he was running and spent the next two years echoing the same themes.

This book is full of interesting statistics that dispel some of the simple myths about Obama’s success. For instance, Obama only carried four of the top ten states with the highest proportion of voters under 30. However, Obama carried seven of the ten states with the lowest proportion of voters under 30 years old. Despite giving Obama around 70% of their supports, they weren’t what powered Obama. The Democrat won because middle age voters went away from the Republican Party in 2008. The top ten states with the most senior citizens split evenly for Obama and McCain, so the myth that older voters went solidly for McCain doesn’t hold up either.

One of the biggest lessons here is that the Republican Party sowed the seeds of their own demise with their immigration policy. Hispanic voters were critical to Obama’s success. Obama carried eight of the top ten states in proportion of Hispanic voters, and demographic trends in the two that he didn’t carry, Arizona and Texas, are showing signs of becoming potential battleground states in the future. After Todd’s introduction, the book is divided into sections titled Battleground States, Receding Battleground States, Emerging Battleground States, and Red and Blue States.

Each state gets its own chapter consisting of how the state voted in past presidential elections, how the state voted in 2008, and an analysis of the political direction the state is trending towards. This sounds like a great deal of material but the authors cover it in highly narrative fashion over a few pages. The book is only 258 pages long, but it is loaded with information, and is bound to teach even the most devout political zealot something that they didn’t know.

The potential pitfall with this type of book is that the narrative can become buried in a sea of polling data and numbers. Todd and Gawiser avoid this problem by using only relevant polling data and returns to tell the story. Interestingly, the story they tell is one not only of how Obama won, but also how McCain lost. It looks at the possibility of Democratic realignment, and points out just how much work Republicans have to do at both the state and national levels before they will be competitive again. This is a book that I can’t recommend highly enough. It is well worth your time.

You can buy How Barack Obama Won for $10.36 new or $7.36 used at

One Reply to “Book Review: How Barack Obama Won”

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