Could Mitt Romney’s 2012 election hopes follow the path of Ronald Reagan’s resounding victory in 1980?
The answer is yes, but not in the way many GOP backers are touting it.
In fact, while the common Republican narrative is that Reagan came suddenly storming from behind in October, a careful examination of the final months of 1980 demonstrates the polls looked a lot more like … well, like 2012.
In January of 1980, Republican challenger Ronald Reagan trailed incumbent President Jimmy Carter by over 30 percentage points. A late poll by Gallup, shortly before 1980′s momentum-swinging presidential debate on Oct. 28, claimed Carter was still leading Reagan by a margin of 47 percent to 39 percent.
Yet Reagan went on to steamroll Carter only a week after the debate, carrying 44 states on the way to a decisive 489-49 victory in the Electoral College and a better than 9-percent margin in the popular vote. The swing is often touted by GOP strategists as the example of how quickly fortunes can change.
Not so fast.
That single Gallup poll, when compared to others at the time, was clearly an outlier. An analysis of several polls by George Washington University political scientist John Sides shows Reagan made his biggest surge in June and July, and from late August onward, the race was virtually neck-and-neck.
“Carter now leads Reagan 45 to 42 percent, according to the Gallup Poll released yesterday,” reported Martin Schram of the Washington Post on Oct. 28, 1980, a significant difference from the earlier 47-39 poll.