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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Great GOP 'Jimmy Carter Wins' Poll Myth

As I noted earlier this week, and then today in my column at The Nation, conservatives have been steadying their nerves this week, as bad news for Romney-Ryan (and some other candidates) emerges daily from various polls, by claiming that liberal bias is skewing the surveys, and then hyping up the coverage,  in Obama's direction.  This is laughable, given the vast number and variety of polls that are all going against the GOP, for now.

But apart from this, the major claim of the past weeks has been this old saw:  Hey, all the polls gave Carter a win over Reagan in 1980!  And look what happened there!  So Romney is in okay shape and if not will surge at the end, like St. Ronald.

Well, there are several possible responses to this.  1)  Polling methods have, by all accounts, improved quite a bit since then, as proven in countless races, including presidential.  2) Also by all accounts, voters today are much more partisan and locked-in (partly because of their media choices) than they were in 1980, and less likely to bolt a candidate.  3)  Reagan had a unique opportunity that Mitt will miss this year.  There was only one presidential debate that year--and, believe it or not, it look place on October 28, little more than a week before Election Day.  (One has to wonder which White House genius scheduled that one.)  Reagan did very well in the debate, promoting a late surge.  Not to mention:  American hostages still held in Tehran. 4) Carter's approval rating was about 30% while Obama's is close to 50%.

But let's also consider  5) and that is:  The all-the-pollsters-were-wrong meme is actually false to begin with.  See this article and graph, which show that contrary to myth, Reagan actually led in tracking polls for most of the final months of the campaign.

Let's consider the most prominent poll of all.  It's true that Gallup's final pre-debate poll showed a sinking Carter up by 3% -- but a few days later its polling gave Reagan a 3% edge before Election Day.  Of course, he won by more than that, but then again, Gallup does not poll ON Election Day.  Also:  Even before the debate, two of the other leading polls at the time: AP and Harris/ABC,  gave Reagan a nominal lead.  After the debate, they gave Reagan a 5% margin.  In fact, virtually every leading poll gave Reagan at least a 1% lead two or three days before the election, and many gave him a wider edge.

So, yes, this notion of the world being shocked by a Reagan win in 1980 is simply nonsense.  I remember my only surprise at the time was that the GOP did so well in Senate races.  Now I haven't seen such a panic among Republican since Upton Sinclair was nearly elected governor  of California in 1934. And in that case, Sinclair was a real socialist--not an imagined one.

5 comments:

Dr.Rick Dominique said...

If memory serves me right, Ted Kennedy ripped the Democratic Party asunder by his ill-fated run and not coming in full throttle for Cater afterward. More credits is given Reagan especially by revisionist historians attributing greatness to Reagan in lieu of Democratics imploding. I am sure if I were a reporter, pundit or historian, it wouldn't take much research to dispel the myths of 1980 elections.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget John Anderson who siphoned off about 5% of the vote, much of which would have gone to Carter. Mitt does not have the luxury of that happening.

Anonymous said...

Hey Greg - you seem to blithely, absurdly, ridiculously ignore the facts - the polling showing Obama ahead dramatically over counts democrats, just as they did in 1980. Hoping that republicans hear the bad news and stay home, eh? I don''t think so. It's much, much more likely historically that the Dems stay home a bit more than in 2010 (Repubs about +4). If so, then that's a +6 to +14 for Romney versus what we are seeing nationally and in battleground states in these absurd polls. Enough to lead to a close, but clear Romney victory. Check out Rasmussn, the most accurate over a 25 year period. It's just funny how you point out something silly like when a debate occurred. Reagan did not win by 3. He crushed Carter.

By the way, Romney may not be perfect, but he gave 30% to charity, twice what he paid in taxes. Obama does not come even close to that. Most Americans do not.

Lastly - I just don't see how any reasonable person can think we should follow the path to becoming Greece. It's just plain sad.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is that Carter was up in the polls with a month or more to go before the election, as Obama is now. One can only hope that The result will be the same for Romney on election day as it was for Reagan.

Robert said...

I too remember being dismayed but not surprised by the Presidential election (Reagan was clearly ahead in the polls) and shocked and horrified by the Senatorial elections.

to compare with now, you really should look at polls from late September 1980 not just the last poll. John Sides applied modern averaging to the data and shows Reagan ahead since the beginning of June 1980 http://bit.ly/Uxim62



I don't think the 1980 myth is 100% conservabubble echo chamber alternative reality. I think it's mostly that the kids these days are a lot younger than we are.

There was a very marked difference related to polling. Back then no talking head knew (or admitted knowing) that the variance of an average is less than the average variance. I can remember many stories about how the race was too close to call, yep definitely too close to call as poll after poll gave Reagan a lead within that polls 95% interval.

Some things don't change and it is clear that political reporters still have a strong incentive to say "don't touch that dial. It isn't over yet"

Oh for the kids these days a dial is sort of like a mouse, a TV remote, those buttons under your car radio, or whatever the hell that O shaped thing on your iPod is. Dials had something to do with selecting channels.

I hate growing old.