Reality Check: 2012 And 1980

Sep 13 2012 @ 5:13pm

Behind Obama's move in the polls is a big move in his approval ratings in the last couple of weeks. Here's the last few months showing the disapproval/approval numbers from RCP:

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The bounce is slipping a little, but it's bigger than anything Obama has experienced since March. Gallup finds the same thing:

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These are not horse-race numbers; they are approval ratings. Fox's latest poll shows Obama at 50 percent approval – which makes him very hard to beat if he's an incumbent. Nate Cohn examines the Fox poll internals, and it looks worse:

While Romney argues that Obama has failed on the economy, the Fox polls suggests that most voters don’t quite see it that way. Just 36 percent of voters give Obama a D or an F on the economy, compared to 38 percent of voters who give him an A or a B. There are a lot of voters with a decidedly mixed view, including 14 percent who give him a “C” and 11 percent who give him an “incomplete,” as the president did himself….

50 percent of likely voters say that if Obama is elected, they would feel that “the country’s improving and I look forward to another 4 years" compared to 43 percent who would say “the country’s going down the drain and I’m dreading what is going to happen next.” While 49 percent of voters say the country is worse off than it was four years ago, that’s not enough to outweigh the other numbers.

In other words: Americans aren't as dumb and Manichean as Mitt Romney thinks they are. The Romneyites push back that this is a convention sugar high, and it's really 1980 and that Reagan surged at the end from behind, and Romney can too. But the Reagan comeback myth is a myth, derived from Gallup.

Check this timeline of all the polling in 1980 from John Sides earlier this year:

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Reagan was never behind Carter in the poll of polls from May of 1980 onwards. Equally, Obama has never been behind Romney in national polls from November of 2011 onwards. Yes, Reagan did have a last minute surge to give him a landslide, thanks to the debates, but he would have won without it. From September on, the 1980 race looks a little like the current gap between the two candidates, but with the roles reversed. Carter was a few points behind, like Romney, but never managed to overtake him when it mattered, and then suddenly lost in a landslide.

As Nate Cohn notes, if this is Romney's view of the race, he's gonna lose. He and his party are zombie Reaganites living in a different time with different challenges. And they have no idea what to do. Or how talented a campaigner their opponent is.