1980 Carter-Reagan Race Too Close to Call on Eve of Election

The 1980 presidential election fooled a lot of pollsters. Ronald Regan got 50.7% of the vote, while Jimmy Carter received 41%, John Anderson brought up the rear with 6%, and lesser known candidates made up the difference. It was a blowout in the popular vote department.

In terms of Electoral Votes, Reagan got 489 to Carter’s 49.

On the eve of the election, the Associated Press stated, based on several polls, that the election was “too close to call.” Will history repeat itself? We’ll know tonight, although there is talk that the Obama camp will call the election early to dispirit Romney voters and keep them from voting. Here’s the 1980 story (see image of article below):

(AP) “As the 1980 presidential campaign moves to a close, national polls say the race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan is too close to call.

Reagan’s big lead over Carter from last summer is gone, as the hard-fought battle has tightened over the past three months, following the pattern of presidential contests in years gone by.

“As more and more Americans focus on the decision of which lever to pull tomorrow, the polls also say Carter’s hopes may be damaged because many of those who support him may not vote.

“The original watershed mark for the final round of polls was the nationally televised debate between Reagan and Carter last Tuesday. But late-breaking developments regarding the Americans held hostage in Iran could make recent poll results quickly obsolete.

“The latest ABC News-Louis Harris poll put Reagan at 45 percent and Carter at 40 percent. Independent John Anderson drew 10 percent, one percent named others and four percent were unsure. That poll, conducted Oct. 29-31, [1980] is based on interviews with 2,003 likely voters. Essentially Even.

“But a national poll taken by the Gallup Organization for Newsweek magazine said the race was essentially even: Reagan 44; Carter 43; and Anderson seven. This survey was conducted Oct. 29-30 and is based on registered voters weighted for turnout. A poll conducted by the Washington Post Oct. 26-27 put Carter at 42; Reagan at 39; and Anderson at seven among 1,000 registered voters.

“While the polls seem to have different results, in fact, the differences are all smaller than the error margin to which all polls are subject. This means that the polls cannot be said to put either man in the solid position as the frontrunner. In addition, the close race spotlights the unique system of picking a president — the election is decided by who wins the most electoral votes, which are awarded state-by-state.

“Of course, every election is decided by who actually goes to vote. But the polls this year demonstrate that the issue of turnout is even more critical than ever. For example, among registered voters, the Newsweek poll put the race at Carter 44 percent and Reagan 41 percent. But when the results were weighted to reflect possible turnout, the results were Reagan 44 and Carter 43.”1

  1. The Cornell Daily Sun, Volume XCVII, 46:3 (November 1980). []