On October 29, 2008, the Brookings Doha Center, a project of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, hosted its first videoconference policy discussion, bringing together Dr. Thomas Mann, The W. Averell Harriman Chair and Senior Fellow in the Governance Studies Program at Brookings via live video feed from Washington, DC and Dr. Jerry Leach, Director of the American Studies Center at the American University in Cairo, who travelled to Doha for the event. The discussion, entitled, “The U.S. Elections: How Americans Will Vote,” included details about what made this election unique, some of the key differences between the candidates, and what the proposed policies could mean for the future of the Middle East. Hady Amr, director of Brookings Doha and Saban Center fellow, moderated the discussion.
Dr. Mann opened by remarking that this was one of the most exciting and closely followed elections in recent memory, in part because of the “exciting narrative” that was the historic Democratic primary. Now, after many months of campaigning, “the broad feeling in the country — not just among the pundits, but among the public — is that Barack Obama will win this election and win it handily.” Mann stressed that this was always going to be an “uphill struggle” for the Republicans, given the past eight years, especially with the collapse of the economy this year and the continuing costly wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Indeed, judging by the results of early voting, the enthusiasm for the Democratic Party has been much more noticeable. “Typically”, Mann said, “the early voting participants are older, are more sort of established and anchored voters with a slight Republican advantage. But this time, Democrat registrants are vastly outperforming Republican registrants in the early voting and from surveys taken, people who say they’ve already cast their ballot, Obama is running about a 60 to 40 percent lead over McCain.” He also noted that this Democratic advantage is not limited to the battle for the presidency, but in terms of the congressional races as well. Mann added that despite being the “most electable Republican,” McCain appears to have failed to convince voters that Obama is too “risky” a choice. Rather, by his own somewhat surprising vice presidential pick in Sarah Palin and his own “erratic” behavior during the financial crisis, McCain caused some to question his judgment.
Dr. Leach echoed many of Dr. Mann’s remarks and opened by also acknowledging the especially high turnout this election. He drew attention to the fact that during the primary season, the Democratic turnout was twice that of the Republican and in fact, a decrease in registered Republicans has been accompanied by an increase in Democratic voters. Leach also mentioned three groups – perhaps groups more likely to vote for Obama – that could not be accounted for by the current polling and that puts the Democrats ahead: people with cell phones instead of land lines, newly-registered African American voters, and the 2.5 new naturalized citizens. Leach suggested that this election was a “realignment election” that could end the era of Republican dominance that began in 1981 after the election of Reagan. “So a recession, which we are in — in my opinion, we are in now because of the financial crisis — bites at the household level and it’s a household level where all the voters are found in the country. The household level, of course, is going to Barack Obama.” Leach also pointed to health care and taxes as important issues that favor the Democrats.
Following the remarks of the two speakers was a comprehensive question and answer session, during which participants inquired about topics ranging from the candidates’ positions on U.S.-Muslim world relations, to the accuracy of current polling data, to campaign fundraising tactics. Perhaps of most interest to Brookings Doha’s international audience, towards the end of the evening, Dr. Leach remarked, “The question of U.S standing in the world — both candidates are well aware that the actions of the Bush Administration over eight years have caused a lowering — drastic lowering of the U.S. approval and U.S. standing in credibility in the world today. The one that puts the most emphasis on doing something about that — of raising it back up — is Barack Obama.”