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The Remarkable Rise of Barack Obama

By Brendan Nyhan

Matthew Yglesias notes how improbable it was that Barack Obama would win the Democratic nomination:

The fact that Obama's had this kinda sorta wrapped up since March 5 has tended to obscure the fact that his primary victory has got to be the greatest upset in the history of American presidential politics. In retrospect, whatever happens looks obvious and somewhat inevitable, but back in the day all that was obvious was that Clinton had the party locked down. Obama's entire meteoric ascent from the State Senate to the cusp of the presidency is just a very, very, very unlikely story.

It's worth underlining this point. Consider, for instance, the Intrade futures market price on Obama winning the Democratic nomination, which represents his predicted probability of winning. It shows that he was given very little chance of winning as late as winter 2007:

Chart12124841351779529

John McCain was considered dead in the water during the same period:

Chart12124841351779535

In fact, the futures price on an Obama vs. McCain race was given near-zero probability as late as early December (note: the history on this contract only goes back to January 2007):

Chart121248413517714887

We haven't had a campaign without a sitting president or vice-president since 1952, and both parties end up choosing candidates who were considered relative longshots. What an incredible year for politics.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com