October 18, 2008


It Ain't Over Till It's Over: The case against pessimism. (James Piereson, 10/27/2008, Weekly Standard)

There is some precedent in the elections of 1948, 1968, and 1976 for the kind of late in the game comeback that McCain must now try to engineer. In the tumultuous election of 1968, Senator Hubert Humphrey trailed Richard Nixon by 12 points (43 to 31 percent) in a Gallup poll published on October 22. George Wallace, the third party candidate that year, claimed 20 percent of the vote. Nixon's lead was undiminished in late October from where it stood when the campaign began in early September. Many declared the race over, as Nixon began announcing plans for the transition. Less than a week later, however, Humphrey had chiseled the lead down to 8 points (44 to 36 percent), mainly at the expense of Wallace's vote, which dropped to 15 percent.

The final Gallup poll, released on the day before the election, gave Nixon a two point lead, 42 to 40 percent--in other words, a dead heat. Humphrey surged in the last weeks of the campaign by playing upon longstanding fears among Democrats about Nixon's character and by persuading conservative Democrats to abandon Wallace. In the end, his rally fell short as Nixon won by less than 1 percent of the vote, just 500,000 votes nationwide.

Gerald Ford's furious finish against Jimmy Carter in 1976 was of a different character than the Humphrey rally, which proceeded by bringing traditional Democrats back into the fold. Ford was able to cut into -Carter's lead by appealing to independent voters who by 1976 represented more than a third of the electorate (here perhaps some precedent for McCain). Ford had trailed Carter by more than 30 points in polls taken in July and by 18 points in late August. His pardon of President Nixon in early September combined with the difficult economic conditions of the mid-1970s led many to conclude that the race was over before it even began.

Ford did not help himself with a blunder in the second presidential debate whereby he denied that Eastern Europeans lived under Soviet domination. Yet by raising questions about Carter's competence to lead and by attacking Carter's promise to pardon all Vietnam draft resisters, he cut the lead to 6 points by mid-October. On the eve of the election, the polls declared the race a dead heat. A Gallup poll taken on the last weekend of the race even gave Ford a 1 point lead, 47 to 46 percent. In the end, the structural obstacles to his campaign (a bad economy and the hangover from Watergate) were too much for Ford to overcome. He lost by two points nationally, 50 to 48 percent.

As of today, it looks like Senator Obama would match that Jimmy Carter two point win. We don't vote today.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2008 9:20 PM
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