Lecture explores race, money in elections

On Wednesday Oct. 5, professor Philip A. Klinkner addressed students on the topic of "Black, White, and Green: Race and Campaign Spending in the 2008 Presidential Election."

This was the last lecture of the semester in a series of political science and international relations department-sponsored talks.

As the James S. Sherman professor of government at Hamilton College, Klinkner has written extensively on political parties, elections, race, American politics and American political history. Klinkner began his lecture by asserting that, "All things considered, Obama actually underperformed in the last election."

Barack Obama received 53 percent of the electoral vote while John McCain received 47 percent. Klinkner said that had 2008 been a normal election, Obama should have won by a larger margin.

He explained that extreme public disapproval throughout Bush's presidency should have helped Obama's campaign more than it did, as the incumbent party is often punished for unpopular predecessors.

Thirty percent of all voters and over 35 percent of white voters voted for the incumbent party in 2008 even though they did not approve of the party's job performance.

Obama's massive advantage in available campaign finances was the most significant in history and a first for democrats.

"Given how much Obama had to spend, we may have expected him to do better than he did," Klinkner said.

Klinkner attributed the probable cause for this underperformance in the polls to Obama's racial orientation, which may have aroused increased levels of racial resentment.

The racial resentment variable is an index that was developed by political scientists in the 1970s. During this time, old expressions of overt racism against minorities were becoming socially unacceptable, so it was more difficult to gather data about racist opinions. The scale attempts to measure the effect that racism has in the political arena.

"The numbers indicate that, had the democratic candidate been white, the democrats would have done between 5-8 percent better in the election than they did," Klinkner said.

Obama's substantial campaign spending advantage won him 6 – 8 percent of the vote.

"His campaign money had enough of an impact to counterbalance his race. Had Obama not had the spending advantage, he may have lost the election," Klinkner said.

To place this spending advantage in perspective, Obama had $5.91 to spend on each vote, whereas McCain had only $3.20. This $2.71 difference between the parties is the largest in history. This was also the first time that the democrats had the advantage.

This can be attributed to Obama's choice to fundraise outside of the public financing system, while McCain relied on the campaign funds provided by the federal government.

Klinkner concluded his lecture with speculation about the 2012 presidential election.

"The campaign spending advantage will not have as much of an impact in 2012," he said. "You can bet that the republican candidate won't be hindered by the public financing system."

The audience's response to Klinkner's lecture was overwhelmingly positive.

"It was interesting to learn that the 2008 presidential election did not coincide with predictions," freshman Kaitlyn Lambert said.

"This is a particularly relevant topic, with the republicans debating about campaign spending and Herman Cain as the potential republican candidate," said junior Julie Williams.

"This was a very good talk for students, not just in terms of the content, but in that he showed a sophisticated methodology for answering a political science question," said professor of political science and international relations Victoria Farmer. "Taking on race as a variable is a complex task. Quantifying it as a variable is even harder."