Saturday, September 08, 2012

Historically Speaking - Polling and Outcomes – Nov. 3, 1980 – Carter-Reagan Polls – Too Close to Call! Result – Reagan takes 49 States in Landslide

Screenshot of Google News Archive, Sarasota Herald Tribune, eve of 1980 Election - Polls too Close to Call

With growing skepticism the public is watching polling data that has depicted the 2012 Presidential Race as too close to call for months. The usual post convention bounce that a candidate receives has not materialized (Obama takes slim post-convention lead over Romney: Reuters/Ipsos poll), and there is much talk about the fact that polling is skewed in favor of one party over another by “over-sampling” Democrats by 8 points (

The economy remains in tatters with unemployment at remaining at 8.1% heading into September, and a net job creation of 96,000 jobs – nationwide(Associated Press via Yahoo News), which begs the questions, why are poll numbers so close? It may be that polls are skewed; it may be that individuals have not made up their minds (5%) or it may be that polling data, even polling data days before an election, pull random samples that, for whatever reason, are not representative of the general population. Of course, there are those reports of harassment of pollsters who show too large a lead over a challenger (See Daily Caller on Gallup Polling).

History, as “they” say, appears to repeat itself. President Obama as been compared to President Jimmy Carter since the first year of his presidency, based on two principles: his inexperience, and his policies. The almost eerie comparison continued during the 2012 Democrat Convention, with the party platform and call for a second term based on “not enough time to right the economy” the same as the 1980 Democrat Convention and appeal to the nation. The kicker: Polling data in 1980, the day before the general election in November, suggested that the race was “too close to call”, by two major pollsters (Harris and Gallup) Sarasota Herald Tribune: “Final Gallup Harris Poll Shows Reagan with Slim Lead Over Carter”. That’s worth repeating, slim lead, the final Gallup 47-44%, or too close to call.

The results: ”Voters Elect Reagan in Landslide Win” It was billed as too close to call….(Mid-Cities Daily News). In fact, Reagan won 49 of 50 states, the exception being the home state of his running mate Walter Mondale. For years, Carter’s approval ratings from Gallup were below 50%. Comparatively, the past three state by state Gallup Approval ratings show President Obama with a dozen states or less with an approval rating just at 50% or more. The latest gives the President 13: WA, CA, MN, IL, NY(55%), MA (54.7%), CT (53.2%), DE, NJ (53.3), MD (54.5%), DC (82.9%!), and RI(57.8%), HI (high 50’s) , VT (55.5). The states not noted have an approval under 51% (between 50.0 to 50.8). Therefore, all states with the exception of DC, and RI are outside the margin of error. If one were to suggest that there was no connection to the approval rating and the polling data on election match-ups – then one would be – delusional.

Therefore, using this particular model, and giving the 50% plus states to the President, the Electoral College vote count becomes: (CNN Interactive Electoral College Map) –gives the President 185 to Romney’s 353 Electoral College votes. Although still early in the contest, and only projections by pundits both professional and non, one can hardly predict an outcome no matter which data one is using. That said, the comparisons are striking, and, as an Historian, it is not without some interest that this race is shaping up as it has – down to the tiny details.

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