2018 Is Not 1982

Ronald ReaganEd Kilgore recently wrote an unfortunate article, Democrats’ 1982 Midterm Gains Looked a Lot Like 2018’s. Then Reagan Was Reelected in a Landslide.

I understand that Kilgore’s intent was positive: he is worried that Democrats are over-confident about taking the White House back in 2020. But there are ways to do this that don’t distort what we know about political science.

Facile Logic

The article is filled with facile comparisons of Trump and Ronald Reagan. For example:

“Democrats picked up 26 House seats, which was pretty impressive because they held 243 going into the election (they won 55 percent of the national House popular vote). They also gained seven net governorships, precisely the number won in 2018.”

Oh my! I guess I should go drown myself instead of face the prospect of Trump being a two-term president!

Reagan and Trump Coincidences

Some other amazing coincidences:

Trump’s Approval Wasn’t the Same as Reagan’s

Okay, most of Kilgore’s coincidences aren’t quite so facile. But they aren’t that much better. And in at least one case, he’s simply wrong: Trump has the same approval rating now as Reagan did at this time: 43 percent. To start with, he’s wrong on the numbers:

  1. First, according to Pew, the polling average so far this year is less than 41 percent. And the yearly average is only 38 percent. Where Kilgore is getting his numbers is unclear.
  2. What’s more, the most correct number for Reagan would be 44 percent, not 43 percent.
  3. So Reagan was beating Trump by 6 percentage points.

But the numbers don’t even matter because Kilgore does not put these numbers in context. When Reagan saw these terrible numbers, the unemployment rate was 10.8 percent! Additionally, the unemployment trend was horrible: it was only 6.3 percent when Reagan entered office. This completely explains why Reagan was so unpopular in 1982.

Things couldn’t be more different for Trump. The unemployment rate went from 4.9 percent when he entered office to 3.7 currently. Yet despite these good economic numbers, Trump is distinctly less popular than Reagan.

But Kilgore just throws up two (incorrect) numbers and provides no context.

Trump Could Very Well Win in 2020

Don’t get me wrong: over the last two years, a lot of liberals have indicated that 2020 will be an easy election for the Democrats. And I always tell them the same thing: if the economy is still growing, Trump will win.

Note that my simple presidential election model predicted that Trump would win the election in 2016 by a very small margin. And it will predict that he wins re-election depending upon the employment numbers in the first 9 months of 2020.

But there are a couple of things that make me think he will not win re-election.

The first is that Trump did far worse than the economic numbers would indicate. Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes when Trump should have won it by a small amount.

The second is that the economy is at as good a place as the Federal Reserve will allow. Trump’s only real hope is that there is a quick downturn and recovery. It certainly could happen. But if I were a betting man, I’d go with the Democrats.


The last thing I want to see is the Democrats getting complacent. It was tragic that after Obama became president, the base dropped the ball. Even worse: so did Obama. And in 2016, if all those Jill Stein voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio had voted for Clinton, the Democrats would contract the White House — and the Supreme Court for a generation.

The Democrats need to fight hard in every election. 2018 showed how important this is.

But the 2020 election will not depend upon this year’s results. And the comparison with Ronald Reagan in 1982 is meaningless.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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