The GOP is fond of comparing this presidential race to 1980's for obvious reasons (a liberal incumbent lost), and Dems are fond of comparing 2012 to 2004 for obvious reasons (an incumbent won despite low approval ratings), but that obscures some hugely important differences.
Over on the homepage today, I write about those differences.
Why 2012 isn't like 1980
1. The country's mood, while pessimistic, isn't nearly as gloomy as in 1980.
Currently, 38% think the country is on the right track. In 1980, that number was 20%. Obviously, that gap makes Obama's job a bit easier than Carter's.
2. Obama's approval rating sits around 49% in Gallup's poll. Jimmy Carter's was 31% at this point in the race.
It's not easy to win with a 49% approval rating, but it's possible. It's impossible to win with a 31% approval rating, and that's what Carter was lugging around.
In 1980, Hispanics made up only 2% of the voting electorate. In 2008, that grew to 9%, and it could hit 10% this year.
In fact, in 1980, whites made up 88% of voters. In 2008, they made up just 74% of voters.
Republicans like to say that Romney just needs a big debate performance to even this thing up. But that fact is that the audience will be much different and much less receptive to his message than it was to Reagan's in 1980.
4. Romney is no Reagan.
This is the only argument that can't be backed with empirics, but it's the biggest, most important difference of all.
Why 2012 isn't like 2004:
Obama is weakest in the area of most concern to voters. Bush was strongest in the area of most concern.
Right now, the president leads Romney on nearly every issue, but Romney usually battles him to a draw or is even slightly ahead on the economy and jobs.
And, obviously, the voters are overwhelmingly concerned about the economy and jobs.
But in 2004, voters' biggest concern was "moral values", which Bush beat Kerry on, 80%-18%.
Also close to the top was "terrorism", and there again, voters picked Bush by a massive 72% margin.
Thus, Obama actually faces a more difficult issue set than Bush.... and Bush barely won.
Yes, the president is leading in the polls right now, but the economy isn't going away and perceptions of how responsible he is for it can change overnight.