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   Exploding the Reagan 1980 Comeback Myth

NEWS INFORMATION

Parent

Parent

News Date

9/12/2012 2:35 am

Author

Nate Cohn

Media

New Republic, The

Category

Commentary

Database Record

Entered 9/16/2012, Updated 9/16/2012

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After an Obama bounce prompted a wave of articles about Romney’s dwindling chances, Romney’s pollster Neil Newhouse published a memo detailing the case for a comeback. Perhaps the most striking element of the memo was the complete absence of polling data, but his strained reconceptualization of the 1980 race was also highly unusual. Newhouse contended that Carter led by nearly 10 percentage points in late October and asserted that this year would see a rerun of that campaign. While the myth of a Reagan comeback figures prominently in American electoral history, it turns out that it’s just that: a myth. The legend of Reagan’s epic comeback is largely the result of anomalous Gallup polling, which even showed a Carter advantage over the final month of the campaign. But if RealClearPolitics or Pollster.com had existed in 1980, the conventional wisdom would have been a little different. In fact, Reagan held a lead from mid-September onward and had a two or three point lead heading into the debates. Private polling conducted for the Reagan and Carter campaigns showed the same thing. Reagan’s 10 point victory is a precedent for sweeping undecided voters, but it isn’t a model for a come-from-behind victory (I am hardly the first to make this observation, as John Sides and Greg Sargent have been leading this charge for some time).


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