The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election/Blogging the Political: Politics and Participation in a Networked Society

By Silver, Derigan | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election/Blogging the Political: Politics and Participation in a Networked Society


Silver, Derigan, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


* Kenski, Kate, Bruce Hardy, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson (2010). The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 378.

* Pole, Antoinette (2010). Blogging the Political: Politics and Participation in a Networked Society. New York: Routledge. pp. 161.

Political communication scholars and educators are well aware of how new developments in social media, email, blogging, and the microtargeting of messages to niche audiences have altered American politics and political campaigns. Two new books delve into these topics, one by focusing on the presidential campaign of 2008 and the other by examining political blogging by minorities, women, and political elites.

In the excellent and comprehensive The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election, authors Kate Kenski, Bruce Hardy, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson use a national rolling cross-section telephone survey, extensive analyses of campaign messages, a "comprehensive set" of media buys, a case study of the role radio ads played in the abortion and embryonic stem cell research debate, and interviews with campaign insiders to "explain the extraordinary election that . . . pitted a 72-year-old Vietnam War hero against a 47-year-old African American whose prime credential was prescient opposition to the war in Iraq" (p. 2). Focusing on framing and priming, the book explores how Obama's campaign messages adroitly reinforced frames already established in the news media and exploited the historical economic meltdown to win the election, albeit with help from the McCain campaign's mistakes and Sarah Palin's poor news media performances.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first four chapters, the authors explore the candidates' central messages about themselves and their opponents. Next, in chapters 5 through 10, the book divides the general election into five periods coinciding with shifts in momentum. Finally, the book examines the effects of massive early voting and the Obama campaign's large expenditures and microtargeting.

From the beginning, the authors point out that while in some ways Barrack Obama's victory in 2008 was a monumental milestone, in other ways it was quite predictable. On one hand, an African-American U.S. Senator with only three-plus years of experience in Washington, who had never run any governmental office or agency, won his party's nomination, narrowly beating the prohibitive favorite, Sen. Hillary Clinton. He then won a decisive victory in the general election over John McCain. However, the book acknowledges that nearly all political scientists who study elections have concluded that the very low approval ratings for incumbent George W. Bush and the economic meltdown of 2008 all but guaranteed a Democrat win. Thus, the goal of the book is to determine what, if any, part media, money, and message played in the election. To that end, the book makes the convincing argument that Obama's campaign skillfully used well-crafted messages that emphasized the economy and McCain's connection to Bush and a much larger campaign war chest to convince a "center-right electorate" that a candidate perceived as liberal shared its values more so than a candidate "thought to be closer to its ideological bent" (p. 5).

The authors write that Obama's messaging during the campaign successfully focused on several distinct themes, which had already been primed by the national news media. First, whereas Obama represented change from the status quo rather than a classic tax-and-spend liberal, McCain - or "McSame" - represented President Bush's third term and politics as usual. Next, without directly attacking McCain as being too old to be elected, the Obama campaign was able to portray him as erratic, angry, and out of touch with the general public, particularly on economic issues, views that reinforced the notion that McCain was too old. Finally, the Obama campaign was able to deflect criticism that the Democratic nominee was not ready to lead. …

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