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Opinion: Reagan vs. Obama

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Opinion: Reagan vs. Obama

President Ronald Reagan shares a laugh with singer Ray Charles at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention at night on Thursday, August 23, 1984 in Dallas. Charles sang "America the Beautiful" in the finale. (AP Photo/Peter Southwick)

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Since the election, Democrats have been mocking the Republicans for running a campaign that was perfectly suited to 1980. Republicans have lamented, as they’ve lamented every four years since 1984, that their candidate was “no Ronald Reagan.”

Which leads me to ask: could even Reagan, the most beloved of Republican presidents, have won in 2012? Could his popularity have overcome the demographic changes that have taken place in the last 32 years?

First, I looked at the percentage of the electorate each demographic group made up in 1980: whites were 88 percent, blacks 10 percent, Latinos 2 percent. Then, I looked at the percentage of ethnic vote each candidate won. Since there was a third candidate in the race who received a significant number of votes, I divided John Anderson’s support between Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Using that formula, Reagan won whites 60-40, while Carter won blacks 85-15 and Latinos 60-40.

In 2012, whites made up 72 percent of the electorate, blacks 13 percent, and Latinos 10 percent. I used the 1980 margins for whites and Latinos, but assumed blacks would vote for Obama as they did in 2012, 93 percent to 7 percent, given that he is the first member of their ethnic group to serve as president. New in 2012 are Asians and Other. With no other information to go on, I used this year’s percentages. Asians, who cast 3 percent of the votes, went 73-26 for Obama, while “Other,” who cast 2 percent, went 58-42 for the president.
   
The result? Reagan would have won the popular vote, 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent. So the Republicans had the right idea, but the wrong candidate. It was possible to win one last election for the Gipper -- but only if the Gipper had been running. However, after this year, the Reagan Coalition would never be able to win another election -- even if the Republicans could find a way to reanimate Reagan.

 

This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.

Related Topics Barack Obama
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