Barack Obama’s presidential election from an organisational perspective - an integrative analysis

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2009

32 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of content











Table of figures




1. Introduction

The 4th November 2008 was an important day for the US citizens and the entire world. This day proved for many that the American dream is still possible. For the first time in history an Afro-American candidate became President of the United States of America. Barrack Hussein Obama, a man with an uncommon background, has managed to win the election clearly with 365 electoral votes against his republican counterpart John McCain, who ended his campaign with 173 votes.1 Who is this man and how did he realize his goal to become president despite the strong competition and the fact that just 40 years ago, racial segregation still was a major problem in the US?

Clearly, he was different compared to his rivals in many ways and this finally accounted for his overwhelming result. The following paper shall identify and analyze these success drivers from an organizational behavior perspective. To what extent did he make use of theories discussed in class, like effective leadership and organizational structure? To begin with, the authors will provide a brief overview in regard to the US American election system, a major reason, why the nation was ready for reconsiderations and change. An initial descriptive discussion of Obama’s election campaign as well as those of his competitors shall serve as a basis for the following integrative analysis, linking both theory and practice in a comparative manner. What made Barack Obama, his campaign and his operations so unique and successful? The subsequent work will provide answers this central question.

2. System analysis and the time for change

Exactly 220 years ago, in 1789, George Washington was elected the first president of the Untied States of America. When looking at all past election processes the 43 different US presidents had to go through, it can be summarized that despite some changes the basic election system is still based upon the original idea to have an Electoral College choosing the head of state in the name of the people.2 In order to understand how the election system helped Obama to succeed the reader has to be aware of its general characteristics.

Every four years a new president as well as vice president will be elected. As stated in article II, section 1 of the US constitution, this the election process follows and indirect procedure. So-called Electors, chosen by each state, vote for the presidential candidates – not the public itself.3 Each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) nominate a number of electors equal to the number of representatives in Congress (House of Representatives and Senate). In total, the Electoral College consists of 538 electors. In 48 states as well as the District of Columbia these electors vote for the presidential candidate, who received the most votes in their respective state. For instance, if the majority votes for the democratic candidate in a state, this potential president will get all votes from the states electors. Only two minor states, Maine and Nebraska (each select only 3 electors) do not follow this plurality system (“the winter takes all”), instead they use the Congressional District Model.4

After outlining the major characteristic of one of the world’s oldest and most complex election systems for clarity reasons, it is important to sketch the major steps for the road to the White House.5 Firstly, a politician with the goal to run for the head of state position usually tests if he or she has the potential also in terms of “rear cover”. At the same time they try to raise money, for example through donations, and if they are confident they officially declare their candidacy. The next stage is the primary season, which takes place from January until June in the year before the election. During this pre-nomination phase delegates are selected by the public, who support the different aspirants. This period is marked by inter-party competition, as all candidates want to take the lead for the party’s final nomination.

At the national party conventions in the summer, the selected delegates vote for a final presidential candidate and decide on the party policy positions as well as goals. The fourth stage refers to the general election campaign where each party’s final nominees “fight” for votes from the Electorate College. Massive advertisement and public relation expenditures come into play. Special attention is given to the so called “swing states” where the outcome is likely to be unsure. The last step is regarded to be the official election itself, when one of the two aspirants will be picked to be the future chief of state in the beginning of November.

When in 2008 Barack Obama ran for the highest public office in the US, compared to his predecessors he took a different route in many aspects. For instance, he managed to collect nearly $745 million donations or almost 70% of all donations for the entire democratic candidates.6 By comparison McCain, the republican president claimant achieved to gather circa $346 million or almost 58% of the whole republican candidate bounties. These first observations served as a strong pubic signal. Why was that?

During the eight preceding years before Obama’s nomination for presidency, the US was led by a republican government, which made many significant mistakes in several political fields. Just to provide some examples, the majority of US citizens were showed little support, since the former government did not care about fiscal responsibility. Throughout the crisis around the years 2000/2001 money was spent in a more or less uncontrolled manner (e.g. huge tax cuts but mainly for the rich), which led to permanent deficits and has put the federal government of today in an even weaker position to fight the current world crisis.7 Another major mistake, also from an economical perspective was the Iraq invasion. The public increasingly lost their trust in the head of state and his administration, after the disclosure of the facts that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found as well as that the war put a huge strain on the budget (estimations range between $1 and $3 trillion) whereas the goal of economical and political stabilization was never achieved.8 In other words the input-outcome ratio was severely out of balance.

Furthermore, in a world, in which environmental issues played a growing role and countries are looking for ways of decreasing the dependency of the limited natural resources, like oil or gas, the previous US administration did not accord sufficient attention to environmental aspects (USA did not join the Kyoto protocol yet). Instead the White House officials were unwilling to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels for instance through focusing on the research and development in sustainable energy sources. Since 2000 the public basically experienced a government that was in many ways characterized by its inability to lead the country in a responsible manner.

Due to these and many other dissatisfying, or even missing decisions, a broad American public was expecting massive change in direction. Increasing economic and public pressure, often based on these sentiments of disapproval, paved the way for the young and dynamic candidate Barack Obama and his objective to move into the oval office.

3. The Obama election campaign

“I am asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington I am asking you to believe in yours!”

3.1. History & Background

Barack Obama, the bi-racial son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, raised to national prominence with his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Behind this point in time there lies a very emotional and inspirational story.

Obama’s story might be considered as inspirational. In search of right direction for his desire to work for the society from grass roots level, he left his work as the financial writer for an international consulting firm in New York and started looking for another job, which served his desire. In his speech at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, he focused on his efforts in the movement to oppose the apartheid regime in South Africa. He wrote letters to every social organization he could think of to offer him a job, while his friends were applying to the jobs on Wall Street. Finally, a small group of churches in south side of Chicago offered him a job to work as a community organizer. A missing network and lacking experience rendered his efforts considerably difficult. He was always inspired by the stories of Civil Rights Movement and John F. Kennedy’s call to service, but when he went to South Side there were no marches, no speeches on Civil rights. There were lots of people suffering in the shadows of Steel Plants. For the organization and his endeavors, there was not enough response in the beginning.

But, later on, there was success. He gave a voice and feeling to the residents that there is a need for a redevelopment, job training and environmental cleaning-up efforts. But during the work in the community group, he realized that it wasn’t just helping other people, but he was embraced by the community, he gave a meaning to his citizenship. He saw this opportunity that matched his feelings and thoughts to the entire service of America.

3.2. Organization & Campaign Structure

With his strong desire to work for the9 society even after his graduation from Harvard Law School, he went back to his adopted home town of Chicago and worked for the community. Obama himself thinks that he has a crazy idea that he has to work at the grass roots level to bring about change in America.


Having the credentials of being the President of Harvard Law Review and graduating with Magna cum Laude in 1991, he could have easily done anything he wanted to, but he went back to Chicago to practice civil law rights and taught in University of Chicago. His outlook was very energetic and his vision was very clear. Every person who spoke to him for few moments can easily understand that he is a politician who enables the citizen rights, efforts from grass roots and a strong builder of broad based coalitions. This was his vision for politics. There was no personal gain in it, no bad intentions to gain personal profits. He has a vision that was learnt from the past but didn’t stick to the old fashioned thinking process. He was reputed as a new breed of politicians, able to come over the traditional and racial borders. This was very much growing in the minds of people as they see him augmenting in his career.


Obama’s election victory was closely linked to his innovative way of raising the funds through Internet. From the beginning 2007, his campaign was using the funds given by bigger donors and smaller firm donors and supporters of Democrats. Later, he had to stop this because of the rules not to use the tax payers’ money to run the election campaign. There was a total of $750 million of funds raised. The following illustration allows a quarterly overview regarding the funds raised:

Illustration 1: Total amount of money raised by quarter - Barack Obama

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: , accessed April 3rd 2009

Out of these, 88% of the funds came from individual contributors and rest from other contributors, which include, PAC contributions, candidate’s self-financing, federal funds et cetera.

Berlin speech12

Obama not only concentrated on the American national but the whole world. There were campaigning in Europe, Africa, and Asia and not to mention Americas. The most important one was his historical speech in Berlin. Amongst the largest crowd for his campaign, he spoke as a citizen, not as presidential candidate. He captured the minds and hearts of people by giving speeches that eroded the walls between the countries on either side of Atlantic. Racism and the walls between religions and nativity have been targeted.

Target people13

With his determination to help people in a better and a more effective way, he decided to run for the elective office in 1996 and won a seat from Chicago in the Illinois state senate. Obama clearly captured the minds of American people who needed a fundamental change in the country’s direction. Change, not experience was the order of the election campaign. The campaign was totally focused on a sweep of the people they could gain, not a perfection or a mastery in the thoughts. It was targeted at breaking the conventional way of running the country or developing the standards of people, but was promising a better good days ahead. Not necessarily taking back into the good days, having a bright new future better than the previous years.


He is well known for his inspirational speeches which motivate the young voters. His well polished speaking style, command in theoretic knowledge, has made communication his main tool to attract people. In 2004,, there was a free-for-all U.S Senate race, when the Republican local leader, Peter Fitzgerald, announced that there would be no reelection. Obama was selected as the democratic member easily out of the other six democrats running for the prominence. To give a strong push to the democracy side, the presidential candidate John Kerry decided to select Obama as the Keynote Speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Obama’s well known oratory skills, its soaring and polished language catapulted Obama into national media.

4. Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton

4.1. History & Background

“I’m in. And I’m in to win!”14

On January 20th 2007 the former First Lady and two-term Democrat Senator from New York Hillary Clinton officially announced her candidacy for the 2008 presidential election to become the first female president of the United States.


1 President Map- Election Results 2008,, accessed 17. April 2009.

2 The Electoral College- Origin and History,, accessed 02. April 2009.

3 LII Legal Information Institute: United States Constitution, Cornell University Law School, April 2009,, accessed 02. April 2009.

4 The winner of a district gets the electoral vote for the respective district, whereas the winner of the overall popular vote picks up the Senate votes.

5 Kevin J. Coleman et al., Presidential Elections in the United States: A Primer, (Congressional Research Service: The Library of Congress, 2000), found on, accessed 02. April 2009.

6 Federal Election Commission: Presidential Campaign Finance, (December 2008), found on, accessed 02. April 2009.

7 Jim Young: A look at Bush’s Economic Missteps, Time, found on,28804,1872229_1872230_1872232,00.html, accessed 02. April 2009.

8 Spencer Platt: A look at Bush’s Economic Missteps, Time, found on,28804,1872229_1872230_1872233,00.html, accessed 03. April 2009.

9 What makes Obama’s online campaign work obamas-online-campaign-work., accessed 8th April 2009

10 Organizing for America Barack TV,, accessed 4th April 2009

11 Summary data for Barack Obama Open Secrets.,, accessed 4th April, 2009

12 The Huffington Post, April 6th 2009,, accessed 6th April, 2009

13 Five lessons for Managers from Obama’s campaign- Business week, accessed 6th April 2009

14 Central News Network, CNN (2008), Hillary Clinton launches White House bid: “I’m in.”, accessed 9th April 2009.

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Barack Obama’s presidential election from an organisational perspective - an integrative analysis
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Organisational Behavior, US President, Barack Obama, OB, Organizational Behaviour, HILLARY DIANE RODHAM CLINTON, JOHN SIDNEY MCCAIN III, presedential election campaign 2009
Quote paper
Christian Baumann et al. (Author), 2009, Barack Obama’s presidential election from an organisational perspective - an integrative analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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