Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Poll Dance

The conventions are over and the latest polls show Romney behind. Hoping to rally the troops, conservatives have been bringing up old Presidential races where their candidate was losing.  For instance, here's Powerline discussing the 1980 election, where Reagan was 8 points behind in the October Gallup poll. Another favorite is Dukakis leading Bush by 17 points after his convention.

Republicans (and Democrats) should stop these pointless comparisons.  Yep, being ahead in a poll now doesn't mean you'll win later, but we should also understand each election is its own animal, and once you go back a generation or two, it's hard to draw any conclusions that apply today.

Look closer at that 1980 polling. It's amazing how the numbers bounce up and down.  In January, Carter is beating Reagan almost 2 to 1. In June, Reagan overtakes him and by late July he's ahead by 16 points. Then Carter regains the lead but in the last poll, Reagan is once again ahead.  (Meanwhile, you've got John Anderson pollings in the 20s and eventually ending up with less than 7% of the vote.)

We simply don't have that sort of volatility any more.  Go to the Gallup website and check the daily tracking poll.  You'll discover a close battle this year where Obama has shuttled between 50% and 43% while Romney's top and bottom have been 48% and 42%.

Why the change?  The main reason, I'd guess, is a more polarized electorate (and polarized parties), where the vast majority know how they'll vote from the start.  Also, decades ago there wasn't 24-hours-a-day coverage of everything political, so the public barely concentrated on the Presidential race until the last couple months.

Today, we know how at least 35 states are almost certain to vote.  It wasn't that long ago that everything was up for grabs. Look at 1964--LBJ wins 44 states with 61% of the vote. But by 1972 Nixon wins 49 states and almost the same percentage.  In 1984 Reagan wins 49 states with 59% of the vote. Those days are over.  In 2008 Barack Obama got the biggest majority of any Presidential candidate in a generation, and it was only 53%.

This election is still well within Romney's grasp, but that doesn't mean Republicans should look back to learn any lessons.  That country doesn't exist any more.


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