Friday 24 October 2008

Time for a change

Nothing half-hearted about the New York Times' endorsement of Barack Obama for president. It dismisses McCain as running a campaign based on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism, while arguing that in this election America's future hangs in the balance, and Obama is the man to rescue it. The endorsement is woven through with a level of hyperbole about a political candidate that it is harder to imagine in the UK's media. The Americans really believe in the political system and its underlying democracy in a way that is not so obvious in the UK.

It's fascinating to discover who else the NYT has endorsed throughout history. Yes, it came out for Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysess Grant, supported FDR for two terms and then switched to Wendell Wilkie. However, its recent strike rate of choosing the winner has not been so hot, let's hope they got it right this time.


Robert Alcock said...

Stirring stuff indeed from the NYT. I agree that the level of political mobilisation being generated by Campaign 08 - particularly on behalf of Obama - contains real lessons for this side of the pond. Things in the UK have recently been at a low ebb, although I suspect there will be a turnout bounce in 2010ish, for Brown v Cameron. The levels of apathy and disengagement seen in our 2001 and 2005 general elections, certainly by historical standards, really took the sheen off Labour's victories.

Yet we will have to wait until the result and the turnout figures to see how much this has been a watershed poll for voter engagement in the US. I was recently shocked to learn how low trend turnout has been in US Presidential elections. From Voting Age Participation (VAP) of 63% when JFK was elected to the low 50s for Reagan's victories, the figure actually jumped 5% to 56% between 2000 and 2004. But 56% as a post-1970 US high still pales against the 77.7% seen as recently as 1992 for Kinnock v Major. And our relatively dismal 61% in 2005 still trumped the slightly heated Kerry v Bush showdown seen in the US the previous year.

In the US, political fervour is runnning deep - but how wide remains to be truly seen.

Elsewhere, the current Presidential race is heralding innovations that will hopefully transfer across the Atlantic. The ability of Obama of harvest a mass of small, private donations surely contains lessons for Labour and the UK progressive movement. But interviewees featured in a BBC Panorama documentary last week made the point that the backbone of Obama’s campaign finance remains the well-worn ‘big money’ sources – with $739,000 handed over to it by Goldman Sachs. That, incidentally, somewhat put the lie to those amusing ‘socialism’ charges levelled by McCain.

Sunder Katwala said...

There is a fascinating interactive graphic of newspaper endorsements by Philip Kromer, which is also shows which papers have switched from Bush to Obama and how newspaper readership of conservative and liberal papers is distributed.