On October 17th, Karl Rove told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that no candidate who was over 50% in the mid-October polls failed to win the Presidency, as you can hear here:
While Rove’s claim sounds reasonable, historically it does not hold water. Lack of examples. To find another case of this one has to go all the way back to 1984, where Ronald Reagan was leading Walter Mondale 53-39%. Then one needs to go back to 1972, in the race between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, where Nixon lead 61-36%. Then you go back to Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater, 64-29%, Dwight D Eisenhower against Adlai Stevenson 54-40% and finally wind up at Thomas Dewey against Harry Truman, 50-41%….
In other words, it’s not the 50% magical number which demonstration who will win, it is a blowout election on the books and it is clear with a 10+ point spread between the candidates… save one, where Truman beat Thomas Dewey despite polling in mid-October putting him 9 points down, *with* another candidate in the ring nationwide as well, Strom Thurmond having 2% of the vote.
In more modern races, you find candidates under 50% at this point. In 2004, it was Bush 49-47%, in 2000 it was Bush 47, Gore 43. In 2008, just four years ago, Obama was 49-43% against John McCain. Even in 1988, Bush was up on Dukakis 49-41%. For Rove’s argument to be accurate, you have to go back decades, and the races are very different than the close contest we have today. Those races, save for the Truman/Dewey contest in ’48, were blowout victories, double-digit leads. And for the one which wasn’t, the person down in the polls, President Truman, ultimately triumphed in a moment captured so beautifully: