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Distribution of votes in the 2008 US presidential election

Published by Statista Research Department,
The 2008 US presidential election was contested between Barack Obama of the Democratic Party, and John McCain of the Republican Party. This was the first election since 1952 where the incumbent president or vice president was not on the ballot, as President George W. Bush was not eligible to run for a third term, and Vice President Cheney chose not to run. The initial Democratic frontrunner was Hillary Clinton, however Barack Obama then moved ahead in the polls shortly before the Iowa caucus, where he won a surprising victory, before Clinton's victory in New Hampshire set off a competitive race between the two (Joe Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucus and joined the Obama campaign as his running mate). Following Super Tuesday, Obama and Clinton were neck-and-neck, but throughout the remaining primaries Obama gradually moved ahead and sealed the Democratic nomination in June 2008, making him the first African American to win the nomination of a major US party. Early in the Republican primaries, former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani led the polls, before Mitt Romney and John McCain also gained popularity by the time of the Iowa caucus. McCain then became the favorite following the New Hampshire primaries, with Giuliani dropping out and endorsing McCain before Super Tuesday, with Romney doing the same two days after the Tuesday primaries. McCain was eventually named as the Republican candidate, with widespread support across his party. No third party candidates made a significant impact on the election.


The Iraq War was the main topic of debate early in the campaign, with Obama strongly against the war, while McCain supported the invasion and called for an increased security presence in the region. The age difference between the candidates also became an issue, as it had done in the 1996 campaign; and similarly to Clinton, Obama (47) avoided mentioning his opponent's age (72) directly, instead claiming that his politics and ideas were old fashioned, while McCain pointed to his experience, and appointed Sarah Palin as his running mate to combat these insinuations. Obama also proposed universal healthcare, setting in motion proposals for what would later be known as "Obamacare".
The development of the financial crisis of 2008 then went on to dominate the election campaign, as the world faced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s. McCain refused to debate Obama until some progress had been made on the issue, and suspended his campaign in order to work on preventative measures in the Senate that would help the economy. McCain's actions in the Senate were then scrutinized heavily, and public perception was that he was not making a significant contribution to the proceedings.


Obama won a convincing victory, and became the 44th President of the United states, and was the first African American to hold this position (this was also the first time in US history where neither the president nor vice president were white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants). Obama won approximately 53 percent of the popular vote, giving him a 68 percent share of the electoral vote. McCain received the remainder of the electoral votes, and took just under 56 percent of the popular votes, with the remainder of the popular votes split among various third party candidates. Much of Obama's success has been attributed to his energy and message of hope, particularly in the face of an economic crisis, while McCain was often seen as the continuation of President Bush's policies, whose popularity was at it's lowest ever levels. Obama won this election with the highest number of popular votes for a winning candidate in US history, receiving 3.4 million more votes than he received in 2012, and 6.3 million more votes than Donald Trump in 2016.

Share of electoral college* and popular votes** in the 56th US presidential election in 2008

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Release date



United States

Survey time period


Supplementary notes

*Actual number of electoral votes:
Barack Obama - 365
John McCain - 173

**Actual number of popular votes:
Barack Obama - 69,297,997
John McCain - 59,597,520

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