Is the 2012 election more like 1980 or 2004?
An interesting blog post popped up yesterday in my Google News 2012 Election feed worth sharing for a few reasons. As the title states, elections are often compared to past elections in terms of modeling what the current economic and political climate resembles. In 2012, the comparisons are no different. Republicans claim this election can be compared to 1980 when Ronald Reagan swept into office in the midst of Jimmy Carter’s shortcomings. Democrats, on the other hand, compare 2012 to 2004 when the incumbent President Bush held off John Kerry by essentially disqualifying him as a leader and showing signs of economic upturn.
Pete Spiliakos writes for First Things and examined this topic more thoroughly:
So I was watching one of the cable shows this week (can’t remember which) and one of the talking heads said that the Romney campaign was looking at the electoral situation as being somewhat like 1980. In the summer, Carter and Reagan were close in the polls, but Carter’s support was under 50% and, in the Fall, undecided voters broke for Reagan in huge numbers. What with the bad economy, 1980 would look like an encouraging example for Romney supporters.
But let’s look at the presidential job approval numbers. In June, July, and early August of 1980, President Jimmy Carter’s job approval rating fluctuated between 31% and 38%. Carter wouldn’t hit 40% job approval for the rest of the year. During the same time period for this election year, President Obama’s Real Clear Politics average job approval rating has fluctuated between 47% and 48%. Barring an event that sinks Obama’s ratings, Obama’s floor of support is much higher than Carter’s. It is also quite possible that the median voter is somewhat less hostile to Obama in 2012 than a similarly situated voter felt toward Carter in 1980.
2004 might seem like a better model. In June, July, and early August of 2004, incumbent President George W. Bush’s Real Clear Politics average job approval rating fluctuated between 46% and 49%. Bush ended up winning the popular vote by 2.46%. 2004 seems like a better analogy for our current situation than 1980, and the implications would tend to point toward a narrow Obama win all other things being equal.
In conclusion, Spiliakos lists some key differences from 2004 including the unemployment rate, which favored Bush at the time versus Romney now, as well as the Latino vote and John Kerry’s shifting position on Bush’s tax cuts.
The bottom line is that this election will look like the 2012 election for the most part. Comparisons can be made but the major variables such as the candidates, the economy and worldwide conditions always change. Voters change their opinions and change their priorities depending on the circumstances each and every election cycle.
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