Even for the most cynical of observers, that was quite a special night, with the freshman senator from Illinois winning a comprehensive victory in the electoral college and popular vote to become the first black President in US history (I’d urge you to read our Insider breaking news and analysis from our Washington DC office, particularly if you’re a Simpsons fan). President-elect Obama is already trying to manage the sky-high expectations of his Presidency, but there is a real sense of change dawning across America this morning. And so, in the true spirit of campaign post-mortems, here are the top ten reasons why the result ended up as it did (and no, Sarah Palin isn’t one of them…): Economy – economic gloom made the race very difficult for the incumbent party, no matter how far John McCain tried to run away from George Bush. Regardless of the campaigns, this was always going to be a near-impossible cycle for any Republican candidate (as borne out by the exit polls). There may be lessons here for the next UK general election. Change – the promise of a radical departure from the last eight years proved compelling to the vast majority of voters. George W Bush is ending his two terms with record low approval ratings, a legacy of economic collapse, a huge budget deficit and an unpopular war. Successful positioning of the contest as change versus ‘more of the same’ was crucial. Judgement – who was the candidate with the lifetime experience of public service, and who was the wet-behind-the-ears freshman senator? On all the big decisions of the campaign (picking Palin, ‘suspending’ his campaign to deal with the economy), McCain’s judgement looked panicky and erratic, making it much easier for Obama to appear cool, calm and presidential. The shifting centre – in 2000, the Republicans were able to reignite the winning Reagan coalition of the right, centre right and political centre. After eight years of unpopular right-wing government, the GOP may have pushed the centre ground into the arms of the Democrats. The reduced importance of social wedge issues this year (exemplified in Sarah Palin’s high negative numbers) may explain quite how uncomfortable the average American has become with the politics of the right. Race – the much feared (and probably fictitious) Bradley effect did not come to pass. The controversial issue of race was, by and large, dealt with pretty maturely throughout the campaign, with Barack Obama’s nuanced and insightful speech on the issue a real highlight. Much credit here must go to Mr McCain – although this was not a campaign free from smears or personal attacks, the Arizona Senator’s refusal to play the race card through Obama’s links to Jeremiah Wright made this a less divisive election than it might have been. Organisation – the entire scope of the Obama campaign impressed pretty much everyone this year. At the grassroots level, the extraordinary numbers and tirelessness of volunteers, and their creative campaigning (from facebook to Obama ads in video games), must have been worth millions of extra votes. And at the centre, the campaign (and candidate) did not lose control of the message or the story for one minute throughout the entire process, in stark contrast with the McCain team. Impressive. Cash – Barack Obama’s decision to reverse his position on accepting public funding was pretty immoral, and perhaps would have been criticised more by a less sympathetic media. It was, however, the right choice as he was able to raise an unprecedented amount (around $650m), outspend his rival by around 3-1 in the key battleground states and put McCain on the back foot by forcing him to investing heavily in some red states. The Heineken Effect – put simply, Obama was able to reach parts of the electorate that previous candidates simply have never been able to turn out. Record breaking registrations and turnout among young voters and African Americans helped tip Obama over the edge, and were the deciding factor in states such as Florida and Ohio. Age – many were expecting prejudice to have a decisive effect on this election, but it may have been a different form of prejudice than Obama’s supporters feared. In a phenomenon that may have been imported from the UK (remember Ming?), perhaps American voters did not want to trust a 72-year-old, with his old-fashioned rhetoric and worn features, with the most important job in the world. The exit polls showed that Obama, a vigorous and youthful 47, may have been the beneficiary of what some are already calling the ‘Grampa Simpson effect’. Hope and history – wading through all the cynicism, it is easy to miss something a little more uplifting. In these difficult times, it does appear that Obama’s message of hope (symbolised in the candidate’s own demography) was a powerful driver in his victory. Many voters would have wanted to be on the side of history – imagine telling your grandchildren that you voted against the first black president – and there was a real desire to be part of the moment. And what an exceptional moment in American history it is.