Published online 5 November 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.1209
Updated online: 6 November 2008


What Obama's win means for science

Nature takes a look at some of the races — from Congressional competitions to state-wide ballot initiatives — that will affect the nation's research.


ObamaObama promised big investments in science and technology if elected.AP

Barack Obama, Democratic senator from Illinois, has defeated John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona, in both the electoral and popular vote. The electoral balance currently stands at 364 for Obama and 162 for McCain, according to the Associated Press; 270 electoral votes are needed to win (see the scale of the victory in this cartogram).

Either Obama or McCain would have represented a very different departure for science from President George W. Bush, although not perhaps that different from each other (see 'US election: The home stretch'). During the campaign, Obama promised a host of changes, such as fresh investment in science and technology, including a $150-billion push in alternative energies; in his acceptance speech last night he cited "a planet in peril" among the many leading challenges for his presidency. The question now is whether those promises will be translated into reality come inauguration day on 20 January.


Thirty-five of the Senate's 100 seats were up for grabs in this election. The Democrats strengthened their hold on the Senate, but have fallen short of the 60-seat majority that would have eased the passage of new legislation. The Washington Post reports the current balance at 55 Democratic, 40 Republican, and 2 Independent seats. But with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress and in the executive branch, Democratic priorities such as climate-change legislation may now gain traction.

New Mexico

Tom Udall (Democrat) ran against Steve Pearce (Republican) to replace retiring senator Pete Domenici (Republican), a long-time champion of the state's nuclear-weapons laboratories.

Result: Udall 61.2%, Pearce 38.8%


Incumbent James Inhofe (Republican), who in 2003 called anthropogenic global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people", competed against Andrew Rice (Democrat).

Result: Inhofe 56.7%, Rice 39.2%


Mike Johanns (Republican), the former secretary of agriculture, ran against rancher Scott Kleeb (Democrat) for an open seat.

Result: Johanns 58%, Kleeb 40%

House of Representatives

All 435 seats in the second chamber of Congress were up for election, and the Democrats strengthened their majority, gaining at least 18 seats to give them at least a 249-seat majority.


Incumbent Bill Foster (Democrat), a physicist formerly of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, ran against businessman Jim Oberweis (Republican).

Result: Foster 57.4%, Oberweis 42.6%


Incumbent Vern Ehlers (Republican), a physicist, ran against businessman Henry Sanchez (Democrat).

Result: Ehlers 61.1%, Sanchez 35.4%

New Jersey

Incumbent Rush Holt (Democrat), a physicist, competed against businessman Alan Bateman (Republican).

Result: Holt 62.5%, Bateman 36.0%


Incumbent Bart Gordon (Democrat), chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology, ran unopposed for re-election.

State-wide ballots


Medical marijuana initiative (Proposal 1) — would legalize marijuana use with a doctor's permission.

Result: Passed overwhelmingly

Stem-cell initiative (Proposal 2) — expands human embryonic stem-cell research in the state by, for instance, permitting state researchers to derive new stem-cell lines from embryos younger than two weeks (see 'Stem-cell law goes to the polls').

Result: Passed


Clean-energy initiative (Proposition C) — requires investor-owned electric utilities to generate 2% of their power from renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydropower by 2011. That percentage will rise to 15% over the course of a decade.

Result: Passed overwhelmingly


Amendment 48 — expands the definition of "person" to include human embryos from the moment of fertilization.

Result: Defeated overwhelmingly


Renewable-energy initiative (Proposition 7) — requires all utilities to generate 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010 and 50% by 2025.

Result: Defeated overwhelmingly

Alternative-fuel vehicle initiative (Proposition 10) — provides $5 billion in bond funding for natural gas and other alternative fuel vehicles, including research into renewable-energy technologies.

Result: Defeated overwhelmingly

Initiative to repeal same-sex marriage (Proposition 8) — Eliminates the right for same-sex couples to marry in the state.

Result: Passed narrowly


Eleven governors' races were up for grabs.


Incumbent Brian Schweitzer (Democrat), an advocate of coal-to-liquids and other 'clean-coal' technologies ran against businessman Roy Brown (Republican).

Result: Schweitzer 65.3%, Brown 32.7%  

Additional reporting by Geoff Brumfiel.


This article was updated on 6 November.

Commenting is now closed.