John Zogby
John Zogby, President and CEO of Zogby International, speaks about "How Americans Voted in November and Why" Tuesday evening at the UCI Student Center to launch the annual Chancellor's Distinguished Fellows Series. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

In a pre-election editorial, John Zogby, the political pollster with the reputation for pinpoint accuracy, predicted that the Nov. 4 vote would “usher in one of the few years of genuine reform.”

Right again. Voters hit the polls on Nov. 4 and delivered decisive victories for the Democratic Party with the election of Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

Tuesday, Zogby appeared at the UC Irvine Student Center to follow up on his predictions and discuss why Americans voted as they did and whether Democrats will be able to hang onto voter support. His talk kicked off the 2008-09 Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series.

According to Zogby, Barack Obama’s historic election will usher in a period of reform seldom seen in American history.

“To say that this election was historic is really putting it mildly,” Zogby said. “We’ll never ask again about an African American running for president. Done.”

Reforms under an Obama administration might include billions of dollars in federal funds for infrastructure renewal and job creation, as well as aid to states on the brink of bankruptcy, such as California. Zogby also predicted the administration would prioritize the creation of “green” jobs and technology.

Zogby outlined five themes that he said defined the 2008 election:

  • Economic crisis: The collapse of Wall Street banks, the subprime mortgage crisis and rising healthcare costs resulted in 80 percent of Americans saying the country was headed in the wrong direction.
  • What voters want: About 80 percent of voters said they wanted a problem solver and a consensus builder to lead the country.
  • Great disconnect: Independents and non-partisan voters were tired of hyper-partisanship in government.
  • Hurricane Katrina: Katrina precipitated the greatest crisis in confidence in U.S. institutions since the Great Depression and contributed to record-low approval ratings for President Bush.
  • Change: The election was transformational. Americans wanted change, although there is no consensus on what kind of change. Expectations are high for Obama to create change that will bring stability.

Zogby praised the generation of 18-29 year olds, 56 percent of whom hold passports.

“You have a sensibility that no other age cohort has had,” Zogby told the overflow audience filled with undergraduate students.

“You love global fashion, music and sports. It’s so much harder to wage war against people who make good music.”

Center for the Study of Democracy director Bernard Grofman praised Zogby for this kind of historical and nuanced perspective on polling.

“He’s always thinking about the longer-run implications of his findings,” Grofman said.

The Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series continues through May 2009 and features leading intellectuals in the arts and sciences.