The Fable of 1980

As Mitt Romney’s poll numbers keep sagging, the 1980 election has become a kind of magical talisman for Republicans desperately seeking reasons to hope for a miraculous comeback win on November 6. (So has "poll-denial," the new birtherism; see Daily Meme, below.) In the summer, Rush Limbaugh helped revive the old legend of the Reagan Miracle. “I want to remind you of some history,” he told his listeners. “In June of 1980, Jimmy Carter led Ronaldus Magnus 39 to 32.” As summer 2012 turned to fall, and Romney swooned in the polls, a new reference point was discovered. The story now goes like this: Two days before 1980’s lone debate, little more than a week before the election, Ronald Reagan trailed Jimmy Carter by eight points in one poll. (Never mind the other polls, some of which had Reagan leading.) Then, after charming and convincing America that he wasn’t all those scary things Carter had said he was, Ronaldus Magnus won a near-landslide over the incumbent Democrat. 

It’s a comforting fairy tale for edgy Republicans. If Democrats were in a similar boat, they'd also be clutching for dear life to whatever happy-ending historical precedent they could find. But a debate between Obama and Romney is not a debate between Carter and Reagan—and if you have any question that there’s a world of difference on both sides, then you need to YouTube the 1980 encounter and get a gander of Carter’s downcast, world-weary performance. He doesn’t even look like a guy who wants to deal with four more years of being hounded and hated and ignored. Obama might not deal the well-prepped Romney any knockout blows, but he will be in the ring, ready to deal some punishment. 

It’s convenient for conservatives to forget, as well, that Carter was lower than Satan in the 1980 polls. While Obama’s sitting reasonably pretty with 50-percent approval, Carter's “unfavorables” were 25 points higher than his “favorables.” (Thanks, Nate Silver.) Back then, the president faced an even more hopeless-seeming economy, a major foreign-policy embarrassment in Iran, and a distracting challenge from his own party, in the form of Ted Kennedy, in the primaries. As Nate Silver (thanks again!) concluded earlier this year, after he'd wonked out out over the economic data then and now: “In some ways," Silver wrote, "it’s remarkable that Mr. Carter lost his election to Mr. Reagan by only 10 points.” 


So They Say

"Sorry, my friend, but there's no time to snore.

And out-of-touch millionaires just declared war.

On schools, the environment, unions, fair pay.

We're all on our own if Romney has his way.

And he's against safety nets—if you fall, tough luck.

So I strongly suggest that you wake the fuck up."

Samuel L. Jackson

Daily Meme: Meet the Poll-Deniers

  • Romney has not been doing so hot in the polls lately.
  • Republicans don't attribute the fall to Romney's bad campaigning or the 47 percent video, though. The polls simply must be wrong!
  • And how are they wrong? Ask the poll-deniers. A resounding pundit choir has started to sing the gospel of random sampling, and how the polls are wayoversampling Democrats.
  • If you do the polls their way, Romney is up nearly 8 percent!
  • After all, a quick unscientific flash poll in Ohio conducted by a pundit shows that Mitt has nothing to worry about.
  • Jay Cost says the polling outfits are acting like Dems will come out in 2008 numbers, which he thinks is a laughable offense.
  • Poll-denial is trickling down to down-ticket races too—Connie Mack thinks that the polls are making his chances look worse than they are.
  • Not all Republicans are joining the shouting match, though. One GOP pollster thinks media organizations have been way more accurate this year than in the past.
  • Erick Erickson thinks there is oversampling, but he wouldn't go so far as to say Mitt Romney could possibly be ahead. And he adds, "But let’s be honest—pollsters have reputations to worry about and they aren’t going to intentionally try to screw up."
  • Truth check: There are more Democrats than Republicans, and there are large differences in the partisan makeup of each state.
  • Mike Tomasky writes: "While it’s true that today’s numbers might overstate what will be the case on Nov. 6, the way things are going, they just might be understatingthem."


What We're Reading

  • Why is Obama’s drone war not a campaign issue?
  • Todd “Legitimate Rape” Aiken begins his comeback—by saying Democratic opponent Claire McCaskill was “more ladylike” when she won in 2006.
  • The new Obama “47 Percent” ad proves that all you have to do to attack Romney is quote him—over pictures of the Americans he was writing off in that infamous dinner speech. 
  • Heather Hulbert explains why—contra Paul Ryan—today’s situation in the Middle East bears no resemblance to Tehran in 1979.
  • Progressives have been gunning for the leading—or most obnoxious?—Tea Partiers in the House, and they just might pick off a few.
  • New research shows that supporters of Romney and Obama might not actually hateeach other. 
  • Mark Lilla tries to understand what conservatives see when they see Obama.


Poll of the Day

Republicans got a ray of sunshine today, with news that a Suffolk University/NBC12 pollfinds Virginia’s presidential and senate races have gone from Democratic leads to toss-ups. The poll had another happy bit of news for Republicans: When asked which man was the strongest debater, the voters overwhelmingly said Obama. That means high expectations for him when he faces off with Romney in round one next Wednesday.

For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.

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