1980 revisited

Last night, in support of my thesis that the voters will probably take a long last look at Barack Obama, I cited 1980 as one of the elections in which a challenger received this sort of scrutiny. In doing so, I implied that Reagan held a large lead deep into the campaign, that the lead disappeared briefly when voters took a last look at him, and then re-emerged just before election day.

But my friend Peter Robinson, who should know, gently disputed my recollection of the events of 1980. It turns out that, although Reagan did hold a massive lead (more than 20 percentage points), this lead was gone by around Labor Day. Reagan did not break away again until shortly before election day, when voters took a long last look at Jimmy Carter.

Reagan, in other words, did receive sharp scrutiny to his detriment, but it occurred well before the election. When he passed muster (to say the least) in the debates, voters were finally ready to elect him.

One can argue that Barack Obama, like Reagan, received his sharp scrutiny in August and early September when his small but distinct lead became a small deficit. Having now debated well, it’s possible that Obama has just about sealed the deal. In this scenario any remaining major movement will be in his favor, as voters fixate on the parlous state of the economy.

I think it’s more likely, however, that Obama has yet to receive that long last look (all that really happened in August is that McCain poked a little fun at him). This scrutiny, I believe, will occur after mid-October, as it did (unless my memory is still playing tricks) for Bill Clinton and George Bush.

BY THE WAY: As I’ve written before, in light of the way voters perceive the state of things, and assuming Obama continues to debate reasonably well, my view is that Obama will seal the deal when voters take that last long look.

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