The 1980 presidential election is the most obvious analogue to 2012. There are important differences, of course: in 1980 there was a third-party candidate, and foreign policy loomed larger at that time, as the Soviet Union was ascendant. Most significantly, the country’s demographic makeup was different then. The similarity is that we have a Democratic president with a terrible record on the economy, and who is, in some circles at least, a symbol of American decline, seeking re-election.
As Republicans have gotten nervous over screaming poll headlines in recent days, there have been a lot of references to polls in prior elections that turned out to be wildly off-base. Carter led Reagan for much of the 1980 campaign; Mondale led Reagan at one time in 1984; and Michael Dukakis–remember him?–had a 17-point lead over George H. W. Bush after the Democratic convention in 1988. Those elections were three of the biggest Republican landslides in history. (I don’t think George McGovern ever led Richard Nixon.)
At Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft published this useful chart that shows the Gallup poll results from January until November 1980. Jimmy Carter started the year with a huge advantage over Reagan, who was viewed by many as a dangerous radical. Between February and March Carter’s support dropped precipitously, and starting in July, John Anderson’s supporters migrated to Reagan. Still, leading up to the campaign’s last days Gallup showed Carter surging, and in October he ostensibly had an eight-point lead. That had to be sheer fiction. Reagan won, of course, in a historic landslide:
No two election years are anything like identical, but this history is nevertheless worth recalling as we continue fixating on the polls for the next two months.