Open main menu

The 2008 United States elections were held on November 4. The result was a significant victory for the Democratic Party on the national level, as they increased majorities in both houses of Congress and won the Presidency. Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois defeated Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona in the presidential election. Riding Obama's coattails, the Democrats also picked up net gains of 8 Senate seats, 21 House seats and 1 Governorship.[1]

2008 United States elections
Presidential election year
Election dayNovember 4
Incumbent presidentGeorge W. Bush (Republican)
Next Congress111th
Presidential election
Partisan controlDemocratic Gain
Popular vote marginDemocratic +7.2%
Electoral vote
Barack Obama (D)365
John McCain (R)173
2008 Presidential election results map
2008 Presidential election results map. Blue denotes states/districts won by Democrat Barack Obama, and Red denotes those won by Republican John McCain. Numbers indicate electoral votes won by each candidate.
Senate elections
Overall controlDemocratic Hold
Seats contested35 of 100 seats
(33 seats of Class II + 2 special elections)
Net seat changeDemocratic +8
2008 Senate election results map
2008 Senate election results map
House elections
Overall controlDemocratic Hold
Seats contestedAll 435 voting seats
Popular vote marginDemocratic +10.6%
Net seat changeDemocratic +21
2008 House election results map
2008 House election results map
Gubernatorial elections
Seats contested13 (11 states, 2 territories)
Net seat changeDemocratic +1
2008 Gubernatorial election results map
2008 Gubernatorial election results map
Territorial races not shown
  Democratic hold
  Democratic gain
  Republican hold
  Republican gain

The governorship of 11 states and two U.S. territories were also up for election. Only one of them changed party hands: Democrat Jay Nixon won the Missouri gubernatorial election, replacing Republican Matt Blunt, who decided to retire instead of run for a second term.[2]

The major theme during the campaign was the American public's general desire of change and reform from both Washington and the policies of outgoing Republican President George W. Bush (Bush was term limited out of office per the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution). The economy and other domestic policies were also dominant issues, especially during the last months of the campaign after the onset of the 2008 economic crisis.

Following the Democrats' victories from 2006, this became the first time in 76 years that the party had two back-to-back Democratic wave elections making substantial gains in Congress. The first was in 1930, followed by 1932.[3][4]



Senator Barack Obama of Illinois was the Democratic nominee, and Senator John McCain of Arizona was the Republican nominee. Incumbent President George W. Bush was ineligible for re-election per the 22nd Amendment, which limits a president to two terms, and incumbent Vice President Dick Cheney declined to run for the office.

The 2008 presidential election was the first since 1952 in which neither an incumbent president nor an incumbent vice president was a candidate.

Senator Obama won the number of electors necessary to be elected president and was inaugurated on January 20, 2009.[5]

United States SenateEdit

The 33 seats in the United States Senate Class 2 were up for election, plus special Senate elections in Mississippi and Wyoming. The resignation of Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, and the death of Wyoming Senator Craig L. Thomas, both Class 1 senators, meant that both of those states' senate seats were up for election. The Democrats won 8 seats while the Republicans did not gain a seat.

United States House of RepresentativesEdit

All seats in the House were up for election, including seats of the 435 voting representatives from the states and the 6 non-voting delegates from the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. This marked the first time that the commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands selected a delegate to Congress, as per new legislation, Pub.L. 110–229, enacted in May 2008.

Of the 435 voting members of the House, the Democrats gained 21 seats, increasing their majority to 257, their largest since winning in 1992.


Eleven of the fifty United States governors were up for re-election, as were the governorships of two U.S. territories. Eight incumbent state governors were running for re-election, while the retirements of Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware, Matt Blunt of Missouri, and Mike Easley of North Carolina left those gubernatorial positions open. The incumbent governors of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, and American Samoa, Togiola Tulafono, were also up for re-election.

The only governorship that changed party hands was in Missouri: Democrat Jay Nixon was elected to replace Blunt, who chose to retire instead of seeking a second term.

State legislaturesEdit

The New Hampshire Senate saw the election of the first ever female majority. This is first time this has occurred in any chamber of any state legislature in United States history.[6]

The New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, and Governor's mansion were controlled by the Democrats for the first time since the Great Depression.

Overall, the Democrats took control of six legislative bodies to the Republicans' four. Democrats took control of the Delaware House of Representatives, Montana House of Representatives, Nevada Senate, New York State Senate, Ohio House of Representatives, and Wisconsin State Assembly. Republicans took control of the Montana Senate; Oklahoma Senate, for the first time in state history; Tennessee House of Representatives, and Tennessee Senate.

After the election, Democrats controlled both houses in the state legislatures of 27 states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Republicans controlled both houses in the state legislatures of 14 states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Eight states had divided legislatures: Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Nebraska has a unicameral non-partisan legislature.

Initiatives and referendaEdit

Vote for same-sex marriage ban by counties:
Vote against same-sex marriage ban by counties:


  1. ^ "Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 4, 2008" (PDF). U.S. House of Reps, Office of the Clerk. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  2. ^ "2008 Presidential Election". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  3. ^ Barbara Bradley Hagerty & Deborah Tedford (November 4, 2008). "Democrats Poised For Landslide Wins In House". NPR.
  4. ^ Matt Bai (June 8, 2010). "Democrat in Chief?". New York Times.
  5. ^ "Obama wins historic US election". BBC. November 5, 2008.
  6. ^ "New Hampshire Senate Makes History". ABC News. December 7, 2008.

Further readingEdit

  • Barreto, Matt A., et al. ""Should They Dance with the One Who Brung'Em?" Latinos and the 2008 Presidential Election." PS: Political Science & Politics (2009) 41#4 pp: 753-760. online
  • Bligh, Michelle C., and Jeffrey C. Kohles. "The enduring allure of charisma: How Barack Obama won the historic 2008 presidential election." The Leadership Quarterly (2009) 20#3 pp: 483-492. online
  • Campbell, James E. "An exceptional election: Performance, values, and crisis in the 2008 presidential election." The Forum (2009) Vol. 6. No. 4. online
  • Crotty, William J. Winning the presidency 2008 (Routledge, 2015).
  • Jacobson, Gary C. "The 2008 Presidential and Congressional Elections: Anti‐Bush Referendum and Prospects for the Democratic Majority." Political Science Quarterly (2009) 124#1 pp: 1-30. online
  • Panagopoulos, Costas, ed. Strategy, Money and Technology in the 2008 Presidential Election (Routledge, 2014).

External linksEdit