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Reagan's "Comeback"

When John McCain's bid for the GOP nomination nearly flatlined last summer, his campaign trumpeted Ronald Reagan's comeback win in the 1980 primaries as a model . Now, down in the polls with just three weeks to go, some are again suggesting a "Reagan-esque" path for their candidate.

It is an intriguing notion: A story today suggests Reagan trailed then-President Jimmy Carter by eight percentage points in late October, and that, when paired with Reagan's 10 point win on Election Day, would have made for a remarkable turnabout.

But a review of the late 1980 polls shows that while Reagan soared over the final week (following the campaign's one and only debate on Oct. 29), the contest up until that point was tightly competitive, not trending toward the incumbent Democratic president. At the time, the Associated Press reported "new polls say the race between the two men remains too close to call."

A post-election summary of polls by then-CBS News pollster Warren Mitofsky shows that at no point over the final two weeks did Carter have a lead bigger than three percentage points. There is a published Gallup poll not included in that report showing Carter up six among likely voters in a poll conducted Oct. 24 to 27. Whether six or the eight points cited today, Carter's advantage in Gallup polling was offset by similarly large Reagan leads in NBC-Associated Press or DMI (Reagan's pollsters) polls.

The bottom line is that there was no evident momentum for either candidate as the 1980 presidential election neared its completion. That is until Reagan's breakthrough debate performance.

Of course, at that time Carter was the president with sub-30 percent approval ratings, and Reagan the relative outsider seeking to prove himself to be a "safe" choice.

By Jon Cohen  |  October 13, 2008; 4:50 PM ET
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Next: Obama v. Bush on "Experience"


See the best Sarah Palin impersonations, short clip. Very Funny.

See What they didnt show during the debate
What the media didnt cover, the debate outtakes. A tense moment between tom brokaw and John McCain.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 13, 2008 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Reagan was the birth of the fantasy world of the neo-con in foreign policy. The Constitution became a 'quaint' document when defending "Freedom". They embraced the Goldwater doctrine: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice". The Bush Administration loved this. Laws don't matter, the constitution doesn't matter, treaties don't matter. As long as you can wrap yourself in the "pursuit of liberty" then go ahead and sell arms to Iran to fund the Contras. Go ahead and torture prisoners of war. Go ahead and make up lies in order to invade another country.

Reagan was the birth of the fantasy world that you could have government without taxes. That all you needed was a "strong defense" and nothing else for security. They've had their 25 years and know we know.

Now we've re-learned why the constitution, laws, and treaties matter. Why government, taxes and regulation are required for the security of America.

Ronnie Raygun was an old man with Alzheimer's disease who lived in a fantasy world. Like Chauncey the Gardner.

Posted by: thebob.bob | October 13, 2008 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Ever wonder what would happen if MTV hosted a presidential debate, well now you get to find out.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 14, 2008 12:56 AM | Report abuse

The biggest difference was that there was only one debate and it was a week before the election.

We've already had two debates (and a VP debate) and McCain has not gained ground.

If anything, Obama is the Reagan of 1980. He needed to show credibility as a leader and was able to do that during the debates and with regard to the financial crisis.

Posted by: Elrod | October 14, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

It is time to give up on the fantasy that Sen. McCain can pull this out. He has made it clear to the American people that he has nothing to offer to solve the problems that President Bush' administration with Sen. McCain's steady support have created.

People are losing their houses and their savings and Sen. McCain can't think of anything more to discuss than Bill Ayers?

It's over, Sen. McCain should cut his losses so that he can function as an effective voice in opposition in the senate.

Posted by: Dave from Oregon | October 14, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Please help out CSUF students gather data by taking a brief survey!

This bi-partisan study is strictly for class work through the California State University School of Business.

The purpose of this study is to ascertain specific demographic and psychographic details associated with people of differing political parties.

The research is for educational purposes only and no personally identifiable information will be collected or disseminated.

Thank you for taking the time to fill out our survey!

Posted by: CSUF Student | October 14, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

For all his faults, Reagan did complete winning the Cold War, sharing the credit with his predecesssors.

However, it is true that a lot of the evils that beset America today originated with Reagan -
- openly flouting scientific principles in a technological age made it intellectually respectable to deny evolution and climate change, leading to a serious dumbing-down of national leadership and policy-making.
- Regan reversed Carter's efforts to wean the USA off Middle East Oil.
- His interference in Lebanon, a small disaster in itself, began the USA's even more disastrous imperial ambitions in the Middle East.
- His anti-Soviet effort in Afghanistan gave assistance to Jihadists who hated America as much as they hated the Soviets. Moderate parties were wiped out by the Mujahedeen. After the war, the US dropped Afghanistan like a hot potato allowing the problem to incubate.
- He encourage "snake-oil" economic solutions like low-tax or no-tax government. This was summed up by Dick Cheney's declaration: "Reagan showed that deficits don't matter!".

All of these have come back to haunt his successors. Despite appearances, he left America weaker than he found it.

Posted by: toby | October 14, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

What about in 2004, with Kerry? There must have been some reason Kerry (and 49% of us) thought he had won at midnight, only to find that Bush was the 'winner' in the morning. What were the polls like in late October 2004? I'd like to see a story on that, please.

Posted by: OregonGirl | October 14, 2008 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Obama definitely has a healthy lead right now, but a number of other polls indicate that the race is tightening up. (see:

Posted by: Sacha | October 14, 2008 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Forget the numbers. The Polls are way off this time. QUESTION- Why doesn't the Post report on Rev. Jesse Jackson's comments made the last few days? OMG...the Liberal Media!

Posted by: P Townshend | October 15, 2008 12:23 PM | Report abuse

OMG! OMG! OMG! Were Screwed 08

Posted by: OMG | October 15, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

I think if McCain wins, democrats in America will have to get post dramatic stress syndrome therapy.

Posted by: Big Foot | October 15, 2008 4:13 PM | Report abuse

To me, the biggest tragedy in this country in regards to politics is that we've created a huge divide between two "cultures". Every campaign seeks to identify with and cultivate these differences. I grew up in the rural South and now live in California. For the most part, we're similar in more ways than we are different. There's something to be admired for adherence to a religion and preserving the past. But there's also virtues of looking forward and expecting change. At this point, neither side wants to listen to the other. This race makes this painfully apparent.

But just th throw more fuel on the fire, I find it amazing that Mccain, with perhaps the worst managed campaign, the worst pick of VP, and the inability to have a direction is doing as well as he is. If he wins... lord have mercy on us because if he can't manage a campaign, then he can't manage a country.

Posted by: bob | October 15, 2008 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Whatever the outcome of this election, it may very well end up different than the polls. One possible reason is the Bradley effect. There has been much debate about its existence. We will see on November 5.

The greater unknown is the serious undercount of cellphone only households. I am familiar with one of the firms doing a national tracking poll. There is serious concern there about the substantial increase in this segment. Some who have been doing a lot of work with this issue say there are two sub-segments (a) 35 and under with monthly plans, and (b) the poor who use pay-as-you-go phones. Some of (a) are captured but not very well. Virtually none of (b) are captured as they only answer callers they know since it will cost them money. Given the substantial increase in registration and that these segments are over-represented, we have quite a wild card in play.

Now the polling firms say publicly they have worked these segments into their samples. This can not be an accurate statement as no one in the survey research and polling business knows how to capture these groups. In fact, no one can say with dead-on certainty who comprises these groups. It is the central issue at many polling conferences with no answer in sight. This election may very well reveal what those in the business have been seeing for the last decade --- the slow demise of accurate phone surveying.

Posted by: Dee El | October 16, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

In August, McCain was surging and Obama looked like he was out of the picture and then an economic crisis ballooned in a violent and almost unexplainably rapid & frenetic manner. Panic not based on fundamentals at the time but based on rumors and fear. This economic crisis has helped Obama and not because Obama is really offering any real response. In fact, Wall Street will probably dive into a deep funk if Obama is elected because his ambitious economic plans require a great infusion of capital that he may have to raise from the same generous sources as he has raised his enormous funds for his campaign. Because if he tries to utilize public money, there isn't any. This bailout is costing billions and any talk about tax cuts is an outright mendacity. In three weeks, another crisis can happen. Russia could invade Georgia, Israel could blow up the nuclear processing facility in Iran -- these political actions would once again compel Americans to chose between a leader who has been to war and understands what happens there versus someone not unlike George Bush/Dick Cheney who has never experienced firsthand the agony of war. The difference between a warrior and a common man is that a warrier sees everything as a challenge and the common man sees everything as good and bad -- good luck versus bad luck, good policies versus bad policies, good votes versus bad votes. The world is as it is -- imperfect-- and the best leaders don't stand above preaching but stand beside listening.

Posted by: Kathy | October 16, 2008 8:08 PM | Report abuse

I expect the polls will gradually be too close to call as elections day near. Obama currently has a 5 percentage point lead only. Not a whole lot in front of McCain.

Posted by: | October 17, 2008 3:46 AM | Report abuse

"Polls" will still have Obama ahead by 5 points. Just like Reagan. On November 2, 1980 "polls" still had Carter ahead. Carter was the media's favorite, just like Obama today. Expect a big surprise come the 4 November.

Posted by: Carmelo Junior | October 17, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Reagan was a wise man, take a look

Posted by: clcm36 | October 17, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

OH Crap another rigged phony WAPO/ABC News
Obama Shill Phony Poll! Zogby and Rasmussen
say Different WAPO and they are showing
only 3 to 5 lead for Loser Obama and your

McCain/Palin 2008
Joe The Plumber 4 Sec of Labor!

Posted by: Carleen 1977 | October 20, 2008 7:47 PM | Report abuse

It's pretty funny watching you McCain/Palin types trying to convince yourselves that the polls are wrong based upon a the Carter/Reagan election. Did you not even read the article above? The idea that Carter was ahead in the polls near the end is a myth.

You guys can believe what you want, but you're going to have to accept the results of at least one poll on November 4. LOL.

Posted by: Sluggo | October 20, 2008 9:22 PM | Report abuse

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