The Role of Gender in the 2008 Presidential Election

On Monday, November 17th, the William and Mary chapter of the American Constitution Society hosted Dr. Karen Beckwith, a prominent political scientist from Case Western Reserve University, for a discussion of the role of gender in determining the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.  Although data are only just becoming available, Dr. Beckwith presented nationwide exit polling that indicates that women played a substantial and perhaps unprecedented role in choosing our 44th president.

Role of Women in the Election

Women make up a majority of the national population, a majority of the electorate, and turn out to vote at a higher rate than men.  Interestingly, however, women (and men) did not identify manifest womens’ issues (like legal abortion) as important issues during the 2008 election.  Instead, Beckwith said, “latent women’s issues, defined as those traditionally or stereotypically associated with women,” dominated women’s vote choice.  Latent women’s issues include support for education, general concern for healthcare, programs for children, social welfare policy support, and a preference for peace and a reluctance to support military intervention.  In the 2008 presidential election, exit polling identified the top issues of concern to voters as the economy, jobs, employment and housing, healthcare, education, and the war in Iraq – all latent women’s issues.  These issues are “not necessarily issues which women support in every campaign, nor are they issues on which all women agree,” said Beckwith, but “in some campaigns for some candidates, latent women’s issues become central campaign issues” that candidates disregard at their peril.  In the 2008 election, latent women’s issues, Democratic Party issues, and women’s voting preferences “further gendered the electoral context” and “reflected the gendered nature of party competition” in the United States.


Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 10:37 am Comments Off on The Role of Gender in the 2008 Presidential Election

2008: The Year of the Young Voter (Revisited)

Young voters were an important factor in the 2008 election outcome.  Official results are forthcoming, but Rock the Vote reports that an estimated 54.5 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds turned out last Tuesday.  This was an increase of nearly six percent from 2004 and almost 15 percent from 2000.  A record 24 million young people cast votes, comprising 18 percent of the overall electorate.  Consistent with polling figures, 66 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds nationwide voted for president-elect Barack Obama.  Young voters’ strong preference for Obama had a significant impact on close races in several battleground states, including Virginia.

Here in Williamsburg, students contributed heavily to increased voter turnout.  In the Stryker Precinct – where the majority of W&M students vote – turnout increased more than 1,600 votes, from 2,144 in 2004 to 3,803 in 2008.  Overall voter turnout in Stryker was just over 80* percent.

Why the significant increase in Williamsburg voter turnout?  Following an extensive three-year voters’ rights campaign, William & Mary students were permitted to register at their campus addresses for the first time beginning last fall.  In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit on behalf of three W&M students who had been denied the right to register to vote in Williamsburg because the local registrar considered them “temporary” residents.  The registrar eventually allowed the students to register, and the case was dismissed.  Students living in campus dormitories still faced the challenge of establishing physical addresses.  In response, William & Mary student Matt Beato created a web program that enabled students to register by converting campus addresses into physical addresses.


Published in: on November 11, 2008 at 7:31 pm Comments Off on 2008: The Year of the Young Voter (Revisited)

2008: The Year of the Young Voter?

Young voters have never been the deciding factor in a presidential election.  The 18- to 29-year-old demographic has historically lagged far behind other age groups in both voter registration and turnout.  Yet in 2008, this formerly underrepresented group of potential voters is poised to have a major impact on the election outcome.

An estimated 44 million 18- to 29-year-olds will be eligible to vote in November, constituting one-fifth (21 percent) of the voting eligible population.  These “Millennials” appear both engaged and enthusiastic about voting in the 2008 presidential election.  A recent USA Today/MTV/Gallup Poll of 18- to 29-year-olds reported that 75 percent of young eligible voters are registered to vote and 73 percent plan to vote in the 2008 election.  By contrast, the voter turnout rate among 18- to 29-year-olds in 2000 was just 40 percent.  Young voters showed some momentum in 2004, with 49 percent casting votes in that presidential race, but continued to represent the lowest turnout by age.

General election polls (including the USA Today poll) indicate that 18- to 29-year-olds overwhelmingly support Democratic candidate Barack Obama.  Young voters had an impact on Obama’s primary election, helping him to defeat Senator Hillary Clinton.  Americans are all too familiar with the inaccuracy of polling.  Yet the USA Today poll may be a more accurate measure of young voters’ attitudes than other polls because it included interviews by both landline and mobile phone.  Polls conducted for major television stations and newspapers typically do not conduct interviews by mobile phone, which may misrepresent young voters.


Published in: on October 20, 2008 at 11:40 am Comments Off on 2008: The Year of the Young Voter?

The Presidential Election and the Subsequent Shaping of the Supreme Court

On Friday September 26th, following the moot court trial of FCC v. Fox Television Stations that Mark wrote about here and for the Marshall-Wythe Press, there was a panel discussion regarding the 2008 Presidential contest between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain and how the election’s outcome would affect the Supreme Court.  The panelists were Walter Dellinger, John McGinnis, David G. Savage, Miguel Estrada, and Ted Shaw.

The panelists began the discussion by speaking in very general terms about the possibilities for either an Obama or McCain administration to shape the court.  Mr. McGinnis brought up a number of statistics to make his points.   He noted that the justices that would be considered ideologically liberal were much older than their conservative counterparts, on average.  He said, then, that under either administration there would more likely be seats vacated by the more liberal justices by “involuntary departures,” as he put it.  This would undeniably be to Senator McCain’s advantage should he be elected.  Mr.McGinnis further noted that Senator Obama would likely have a much easier time getting his nominees through the Senate, because it is estimated by the current polling available that the Democrats will have anywhere from 55 to 58 Senate seats after the 2008 election.  Further adding to Senator Obama’s advantage, according to Mr. McGinnis, is the speculation that one or two of the more ideologically liberal justices would like to retire, but would opt not to under a McCain administration.

The panelists also discussed the candidates’ favorite justices.  Senator Obama has cited Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Souter as “sensible”, whereas John McCain has cited Justices Roberts and Alito as his favorite justices.  Later in the discussion, Mr. Shaw engaged Mr. Estrada in a debate on the partisan nature of judicial nominations by saying “I want you to come back at me on this.”  Mr. Estrada had earlier argued that the contrasts between the Justices that Senators Obama and McCain would place on the bench would not be as stark as was being claimed by several of the panelists.  He decried the portrayal of the nominations in such an ideological, partisan manner because he believes it greatly damages the court’s reputation and reduces the logical, but divergent conclusions that the justices reach to simplistic partisanship.  In response, Mr. Shaw had said that he thought Mr. Estrada’s claims that judicial nominations aren’t a “my team against your team thing” were not really true.  He seemed to imply that because the law is pronounced and interpreted by people that it will always be shaped by their worldview and ideology and therefore, a partisan team analogy is appropriate.


Published in: on October 6, 2008 at 6:42 pm Comments Off on The Presidential Election and the Subsequent Shaping of the Supreme Court