After the honeymoon: The Obama effect on political attitudes and participation

Laurent W Vesely, Purdue University

Abstract

My dissertation takes a mixed-methods approach to investigating the possibility of a lasting Obama Effect on the political attitudes and behaviors of Obama supporters from 2008. Defining the Obama Effect as the extraordinary enthusiasm surrounding Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, I argue that a short term Obama Effect was clearly present in 2008 based on Obama’s electoral success, fundraising prowess, and ability to inspire volunteerism, as well as on the historic nature of his candidacy. But I ask, was it a lasting effect? My quantitative analyses—built upon panel survey data from the American National Election Studies—suggest little evidence of a lasting campaign effect that was positive and/or unique to Obama supporters. With regard to attitudes and behaviors such as political interest, political efficacy, or attendance of political events, Obama supporters often showed relative declines or stagnation over time when compared to nonsupporters or supporters of previous presidents. My qualitative analysis—based upon interviews with 30 former volunteers from the 2008 Obama campaign—does, however, indicated that the Obama Effect had a deep and lasting impact on his most enthusiastic support base, those who volunteered for his campaign. Many former Obama volunteers remained highly interested, civically engaged, and continually inspired as a result of their activism for the 2008 Obama campaign. In sum, I conclude that while that campaign may not have had its desired transformational effect on the broader American electorate, it did produce a positive and indeed a lasting impact on its most enthusiastic supporters. ^

Degree

Ph.D.

Advisors

James A. McCann, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Political science

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