‘Why Obama?’ asks pollster

John Zogby, inaugural guest speaker for UCI series, discusses what was on voters’ minds as they cast their ballots.

November 18, 2008|By Michael Alexander

Every American knows who won the presidential election this year. But what were voters thinking when they went into the polling booths?

That’s the question national pollster John Zogby spent more than an hour on as the first speaker this season in UCI’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series. His answer? They just wanted someone who could get the job done.

“There’s a critical mass of voters, over 80%, telling us they want a problem solver,” he said. “They want a consensus builder. They want somebody who can manage the government competently — ‘I’m not sure what we’re going to do, all I know is that we have to try something.’ That was enough for a crisis-filled America.”


What they weren’t looking for was a partisan firebrand, on either side, Zogby said. That’s one reason President-elect Barack Obama didn’t start with a commanding lead in such a bad year for Republicans.

“Not one of those [top] characteristics were ideological; not one was partisan,” he said. “In essence, despite what polls were saying, that it was a shoo-in for a Democrat, that he’d just have to show up if Republicans nominated somebody not George W. Bush, this was going to be a competitive election, so long as that person could identify with several of those major characteristics.”

Zogby called Obama’s victory “transformative,” not only because of his race and the national crisis that framed the election, but because of the new voters who helped push him to victory. The 18- to 29-year-old voters who came out strongly for Obama are part of the “first global generation,” a group with concerns far different from their elders, Zogby said.

“They’re the least likely to say American culture is superior to cultures of the rest of the world,” he said. “They’re as likely to say, ‘I’m a citizen of planet Earth’ as the U.S. one-fourth say, ‘I expect not just hope to live and work in a foreign exotic capital at some point in my life.’ This is a group with a radically different outlook.”

Noting that most of the audience at the college was part of that generation, he told them he expected them not to get too cocky, but saw real potential for their generation to be active in public service, politics and philanthropy.

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