Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama: a squeaker or a landslide? (+video)
In a Mitt Romney matchup with Barack Obama, latest polling data point to either a close race or an Obama blowout, depending on which numbers you look at. It may come down to which matters more: economic performance or personal appeal.
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One argument often cited by the "landslide" camp, then as now, is that history shows incumbents tend to win or lose reelection by large, not small, margins. In 1980, Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan 49 to 489 in the Electoral College; in 1984, Reagan beat Walter Mondale 525 to 13; in 1992, George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton 168 to 370; and in 1996, Clinton beat Bob Dole 379 to 159.Skip to next paragraph
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In all of those instances, the election could be interpreted as a referendum on the president's economic performance – which might actually suggest a Romney landslide. But you could just as easily make the case that each time, the public went with the candidate it considered more personally appealing –which would push the needle decisively toward Obama.
Of course, in 2004, George W. Bush broke with history and won by a relatively narrow margin (286 to 252) – though he did improve on his 2000 performance (where he won 271 to 266 and lost the popular vote), leading political scientist Joshua Spivak to recharacterize the historical pattern: Incumbents, he wrote a few months back, either win by a bigger margin than in their first election, or they lose.
History may be made again this year, since it seems highly unlikely that Obama will improve on his 2008 results (in which he beat John McCain 365 to 173). But that doesn't mean it's going to be a squeaker. In fact, if the election were held now, using the most recent polling data available in individual states to determine which way they'd go, the results – as Daily Kos recently pointed out – would not be close. Obama would wind up with 341 to Romney's 197, in an election that would have to be characterized as pretty decisive.
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