Alas, Romney-Obama won’t be a replay of Reagan-Carter

Late events will not be as important. The political mythology around the 1980 race suggests that the national media and most of Washington dramatically underestimated the appeal of Ronald Reagan, and that his 51 percent to 41 percent victory in the popular vote stunned an out-of-touch governing class.

While there were undoubtedly some observers flabbergasted by the margin of Reagan’s win, there are two complicating factors. First, while the polls underestimated Reagan’s margin of victory, Carter did not lead consistently through 1980.

When Carter did lead in the polls, he was rarely ahead by more than a few percentage points — an average of two percentage points in April, seven or eight points in three-way races (including John Anderson as an independent) in May and June, three points in the Gallup poll the weekend before the debate. But other polls put Reagan ahead by significant margins, particularly by June.

Second, the 1980 race included a slew of dramatic events in its final days, a pace hard to imagine now. For starters, Reagan and Carter debated each other only once, and that was only a week before Election Day.