It being just a few weeks away from the presidential election, I’ve started to pay a lot closer attention to the twists and turns of the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. While reading and listening to the rhetoric on both sides, perhaps the most fascinating part of the discussion to me is the speculation regarding what year 2012 will turn out to be. I’ve heard several different possibilities. As best I can, I’ll summarize the arguments I’ve heard.
In 1976 Jimmy Carter got out to a strong lead early in the campaign. Gerald Ford made a comeback at the end, but it was too-little-too-late, and Carter won. 2012 will be just like 1976. Obama got out to a strong lead over the summer, Romney has started to make a comeback, but it will be too-little-too-late and Obama will win even though the result will be closer than it looked like it would be several weeks ago.
In 1980, Jimmy Carter was way up on Ronald Reagan in the polls but then after the first debate close to the election, there was a huge shift towards Reagan and he won convincingly. 2012 will be just like 1980. Obama was leading strongly in the polls, but after the first debate voters have started surging towards Romney and he will win convincingly.
In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote while George W. Bush won the electoral college. 2012 could be just like 2000. Romney is competitive in national polling, but Obama is strong in enough swing states to swing the election his way. Romney could end up ahead in the popular vote, but lose the election because Obama will win more swing states.
In 2004, George W. Bush, a relatively unpopular incumbent, eked out a victory in a tight election against John Kerry because John Kerry let himself get swift-boated. 2012 will be just like 2004. Obama may be relatively unpopular as a president, but Romney (from Massachusetts like Kerry) allowed Obama to define him negatively for so long in the campaign that enough voters will put Obama over the top on November 6th.
What year will 2012 turn out to be in the end? Time will tell. But I can say one thing with confidence. At some future point, there will be another presidential campaign where people will say the following:
“This year is just like 2012! In 2012, ____________ beat ____________ in a ____________ race because ____________.”