It’s all a matter of perspective.
All along most of my fellow conservative pundits have been framing the 2012 election as a replay of 1980, with a former Republican governor earning a landslide mandate from an American people languishing under the failures of an unprepared liberal incumbent. While my ideology may put the fun in fundamentalist, all along I have disagreed with that narrative.
While Obama’s amateurish escapades may resemble Carter’s futility, Romney is not another Reagan. In fact, until the first debate in Denver when he routed Obama, Romney was on pace to be the most disliked major party challenger for president in the history of modern polling.
In addition, an entire generation that still believed in rugged individualism and Judeo-Christian morality has left us since Reagan’s era. They have been replaced by a generation far more conditioned to see government as the solution to our problems rather than an impediment to them.
For example, my home state of Iowa is a socially conservative state but since Reagan it’s only gone Republican in a presidential election once, and that was by fewer than 10,000 votes. Why? Because my home state is one of the oldest in the country (which means lots of folks on entitlement programs), and its biggest industry is agriculture (which is essentially a complete subsidy of the welfare state). Thus, Iowa has been voting Democrat out of personal financial vested interest for decades.
Furthermore, the nation is far more Balkanized culturally than it was in 1980. No Republican presidential candidate – let alone a conservative – could still win California. Now the Electoral College is essentially down to just a handful of states every four years, with most of the country entrenched as red or blue no matter whom the nominee of each party is or where the country is at. That makes obtaining the kind of national mandate Reagan twice received more difficult. Nowadays a Democrat has 200 Electoral College votes in the bank just by showing up on the ballot come Election Day, and that wasn’t true in Reagan’s time.
Because of this, since January I have been analyzing this election with 2004 as its predecessor for three reasons:
1. Obama’s approval ratings are roughly where Bush’s were then. Though the Obama economy is worse than Bush’s (and not as bad as Carter’s), Bush was also saddled with an unpopular war in Iraq that makes that a wash.
2. As a challenger Romney was saddled with many of the same negatives as Kerry. He didn’t excite his base, which is why Kerry and Romney each set the record for earliest to name a running mate, and each selected a younger more charismatic vice presidential nominee. Also the attempt by Obama to make the election a referendum on Romney instead of himself, by characterizing Romney as a wealthy socialite elitist out-of-touch with mainstream values, is exactly what Karl Rove successfully did to Kerry for Bush in 2004. And do you remember the flip-flops on display at the 2004 Republican Convention to remind voters of Kerry’s penchant for taking each side of each issue? Apparently there’s something in the water in Massachusetts because that has been a problem for Romney as well. Romney’s own campaign confidant perpetuated the label with his infamous “etch-a-sketch” remarks.
3. The framework of the Electoral College is virtually the same as it was in 2004, except for GOP states Indiana and North Carolina that were surprise pick-ups for Obama in 2008.
The metric of this race, with Obama getting a big post-convention bounce just like Bush did, Romney then getting a big post-debate bounce just like Kerry did, and the election essentially coming down to Ohio, is eerily similar to 2004 as well.
For the purpose of my analysis, I’m going to rely on the Real Clear Politics polling average for my polling information because it’s been proven to be the most accurate tool for public consumption out there. The final RCP polling average flat out nailed the last two presidential elections (and I urge you to go back and read this link to find out why it did so).
That doesn’t mean RCP is right this time. In fact, we won’t know who is right until after the people (or the lawyers) have their ultimate say. But in the past two election cycles no one has been more accurate than RCP.
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