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Historic poll trends give edge to Obama

July 20, 2012 by NCC Staff


A review of presidential polling data back to 1948 shows that Barack Obama’s edge in the latest Gallup poll is a positive sign for his re-election chances.

But in two past recent elections, candidates with bigger leads than Obama lost hotly contested elections, after their opponents used hard-hitting tactics.

Link: See All Gallup Data Since 1948

Since 1948, candidates who led in early to mid-July polling have won 13 of 16 presidential races in November.

Two of the winning candidates who trailed in the mid-summer polls were George W. Bush in 2004 and George H.W. Bush in 1988. Both candidates used aggressive ad campaigns to capitalize on missteps by front runners John Kerry and Michael Dukakis to win the fall election.

Recently, some GOP supporters have urged Mitt Romney to adopt harsher attacks on Obama, including more ads that attack Obama's character and policies.

In the most recent Gallup poll, President Obama holds a 47 percent to 45 percent lead over challenger Romney.

The third candidate to overcome a mid-summer frontrunner was Harry Truman, who used an old-fashioned grassroots campaign to get past Thomas Dewey in 1948.

In two of those three cases, George W. Bush and Truman had “the power of the pulpit” as the incumbent president as an extra way to generate campaign publicity. Also, in 1988 George H.W. Bush was the sitting vice president.

Romney may need to fight tough

But if history is any guide , Romney will have to fight his way past the mid-summer frontrunner.

Back in 2008,  Obama had a 47 percent to 43 percent lead on John McCain. He won the general election fairly easily.

John Kerry lost a 4-point edge on Bush in 2004 after the president adopted much more aggressive campaign tactics.

Four years earlier, Bush was up 43 percent to 41 percent on Al Gore on July 16.

Past Polls - Mid-summer, Gallup Inc.
2008 Obama 47 x=winner in election
McCain 43
2004 Bush 43 x
Kerry 47
2000 Bush 43 x
Gore 41
1996 Clinton 50 x
Dole 33
Perot 12
1992 Clinton 56 x
Bush 34
1988 Bush 41 x
Dukakis 47
1984 Reagan 53 x
Mondale 39
1980 Reagan 37 x
Carter 34
Anderson 21
1976 Carter 62 x
Ford 29

Bill Clinton had double-digit leads in both his presidential campaigns at mid-summer.

However, Michael Dukakis lost a 6-point lead on George H.W. Bush in 1988 after Bush attacked Dukakis’ record as Massachusetts governor, and the Dukakis campaign imploded.

Ronald Reagan has a 14-point lead in 1984 over Walter Mondale and was never seriously challenged.

The 1980 campaign was unsettled in July, as Reagan was up 37 to 34 on Jimmy Carter, with 21 percent of registered voters opting for Anderson. Reagan soared in the debates that fall as Carter and Anderson faded.

The only other close elections between 1948 and 1980 were in races involving Richard Nixon in 1960 and 1968.

Nixon led Hubert Humphrey by two points in July 1968 and trailed John Kennedy by four points in 1960. Both elections held true to form.

Truman’s win in 1948 saw him overcoming at 11-point deficit in July, the biggest mid-summer polling deficit overcome by a presidential candidate since World War II.

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