This might come across as a strange question for those on the left and the right. On the left, he was seen as a transcending figure whose popularity was due to America's sudden shift to "progressive values." Yeah right. To conservatives, it was a sign that a lot of Americans really didn't know what was going on.
But there are factors to show that Obama was perhaps less popular than Al Gore, John Kerry, or even George W. Bush in the 2008 election.
1. Bush was very unpopular, and Obama couldn't even reach 55%.
Take a look at Bush's approval ratings. Around election time in 2008, he was lucky if one pollster placed him above the 40% mark. Not to mention that about 60% of the nation disapproved. Under these circumstances, Obama should have easily peeled off those that disapproved-- instead he faced a tough fight among members of his own party.
2. McCain was disliked by many conservatives. Many stayed home.
The winner of the 2008 Republican nomination was someone who was demonized worse within his own party than by the Democrats. Hundreds of thousands of conservative and libertarian voters stayed home due to this fact. Would they have swung the election the other way? Probably not. But swinging a couple of states and reducing the margin from 7% to 4% would show the lack of Obama's true popularity. Keep in mind that voter turnout declined in 2008.
3. Obama's celebrity status couldn't even make him popular.
Obama was lauded for commanded millions of followers, and getting over 500,000 people to listen to a speech in Berlin. For all of this, Americans largely stayed immune to the celebrity bug. Despite showing up on SNL, the Daily Show, Leno, Letterman, and WSJF's Billing's Model Railroad Hour, Obama gained little traction among those not already disposed to him.
4. Many, if not most, of the Obama supporters never entered the real world.
Look at who Obama's top supporters were: college students, professors, and union hacks. Many of these are used to hefty praise and things handed to them. It was only too popular to support Obama and put up that trendy "change" poster in your room. Yeah, you don't pay taxes or ever voted before, but he was on Jon Stewart! (see #3)
If Bush's approval rating was 45% and McCain hammered on Reverend Wright, we would probably have a different President. So much for Obama's popularity.
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