Why 2012 isn’t 1980

James Pethokoukas has written a characteristically insightful piece about the differences between this year’s presidential election and that of 1980. Like this year, the 1980 election occurred in a very poor economy presided over by a Democratic president. And it produced a Republican landslide. Thus, some pundits, especially on the Republican side, expected a comfortable victory for Mitt Romney. But the polls show that, if anything, Romney is slightly behind President Obama.

Pethokoukas presents several explanations. The most persuasive, I think, are these:

a) there was an outright recession in 1980 — not just a lousy recovery; b) the unemployment rate surged from 6.3% in January 1980 to 7.5% in October; and c) the Misery Index (unemployment + inflation) was just over 20 in 1980 vs. just under 10 today.

I would add two more. First, the Republican Party is widely blamed for the 2008 recession that began the present difficulties. Although the Republicans presided over a recession in 1974, the economy had largely recovered from it by the time of the Carter presidency, so the Republicans weren’t viewed as sharing blame of the 1980 woes.

Second, Carter was widely viewed as a disaster in the realm of foreign policy, and had failed to deal effectively with the Iranian hostage situation — a huge deal. Obama is generally, though incorrectly, viewed as a success on foreign policy. His signature national security moment is the killing of bin Laden, not a failed hostage rescue mission.

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