If the past political history of the United States is any clue to the Nov. 4 Presidential election, Ronald Reagan still has some serious obstacles to overcome.
The latest polls indicate not only a popular vote majority for Reagan but, in the opinion of some analysts, a possible landslide victory in the electoral vote. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that the Republican nominee won't win unless he succeeds in reversing several long-established American political precedents.
The first is incumbency. Since 1888, only two elected presidents have been defeated for reelection. In both instances, they were the victims of extraordinary circumstances that do not prevail today.
Herbert Hoover lost in 1932 because he was held responsible for the worst depression in American history. William Howard Taft lost in 1912 when his old mentor, former President Theodore Roosevelt, ran against him and fatally split the Republican vote. A Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, won with only 40 percent of the popular vote.
The pull of incumbency is powerful that even though Gerald Ford was not an elected president, he almost defeated Jimmy Carter in 1976. Despite having pardoned Richard Nixon and being burdened with both recession and inflation, Ford gained 30 points against Carter in the late weeks of that campaign and came within 2 points of winning the election.
In this election, Carter is campaigning as a peace candidate, while charging Reagan with being war-prone. No president, in this century at least, has ever lost by running on a peace platform. Woodrow Wilson, originally elected on a fluke, was the underdog when he ran again in 1916 at the height of World War I. Nonetheless, he won reelection on the slogan, "He kept us out of war."
In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt became the nation's first three-term president in a campaign highlighted by Roosevelt's pledge that no American boys would die in World War II. Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson in 1952 with his "I shall go to Korea" peace them. Lyndon Johnson had an even bigger win over Barry Goldwater in 1964 by running against the GOP nominee as a "trigger-happy" warmonger, much as Carter is now campaigning against Reagan. Johnson's popular vote set a record.
The Reagan camp is counting on Rep. John Anderson to deprive Carter of a substantial number of normally Democratic votes, but precedent is against it. With the exception of Teddy Roosevelt's independent race in 1912, all third party candidates have faded badly in the homestretch. Even the redoubtable George Wallace lost about half of his supposed following in the closing weeks of the 1968 election. Anderson also is visibly fading.
Another precedent no president has come close to losing when the economy appeared to be on the rise, regardless of whether the incumbent deserved credit for it. Economically, nearly everything -- even the stock market and the auto industry -- suddenly seems to be coming up roses for Carter on the eve of the election.
The Dow-Jones stock barometer is registering over 950 points, or 110 points higher than it was at the beginning of the year. While the unemployment rate is still over 7 percent, it has been dropping, and more Americans are now at work than ever before. The Consumer Price Index, running at an annual rate of 18 percent in March, fell to 7 percent in the latest report.
In past presidential elections, it has been difficult to pin down the feminine influence because the rival candidates have consistently taken the same stands on questions of special interest to women. Not so in 1980. For the first time, the platforms of the major parties are diametrically different on such gut issues as equal rights for women and free choice on abortion, not to mention arms control.
Although the polls have uniformly shown preponderant women's support for the Equal Rights Amendment, as well as the right to abortion, Reagan and the GOP have embraced the minority position, to the obvious satisfaction of the dissenting Democrats.
One reason the Reagan forces are so concerned over Carter's efforts to depict the Republican candidate as a warmonger is that the pollsters have definitely shown that women, far more than men, are susceptible to this appeal.
The latest CBS-New York Times poll reports that Reagan leads Carter by 41percent to 30 percent among men, but trails 27 percent to 36 percent among women. As long ago as 1969, Gallup found that 64 percent of women classified themselves as "doves," as against 48 percent of men. Since there are five million more women voters than men, it is not surprising that Carter is now pounding away at the threat of war and the opposition to women's rights.