Historical polling for U.S. Presidential elections

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The Gallup Organization was the first polling organization to conduct accurate opinion polling for U.S. Presidential elections.[1] Gallup polling has often been accurate in predicting the outcome of U.S. Presidential elections and the margin of victory for the election winner. However, there were some close elections that it missed, such as 1948, 1976, 2004, the popular vote in 2000, and the likely voter numbers in 2012. The Month section in the tables represents the month that the opinion poll was conducted in. D stands for the United States Democratic Party, while R stands for the United States Republican Party. There were also some third parties included in some of these polls, such as the Dixiecrats and the Reform Party.[2]

United States presidential election, 1936[edit]

1936[2]
Month Franklin Roosevelt (D) % Alfred Landon (R) %
July 49% 45%
August 49% 45%
49% 45%
49% 44%
September 49% 45%
50% 44%
October 51% 44%
51% 44%
56% 44%
Actual result 61% 37%
Difference between actual result and final poll +5% -7%

The Literary Digest famously predicted that Alf Landon would win based on mail in card from their readers. It had successfully predicted the winners of the elections in 1920, 1924, 1928 and 1932, so many people believed their forecasts.

George Gallup predicted very different results based on statistical random sampling. The accuracy of Gallup's forecasts was a very visible demonstration of the value of modern statistical methods. The people who mailed in cards to the Literary Digest were more affluent with an overwhelmingly negative evaluation of Roosevelt. They were not representative of the voting public, and it showed in the results.

Incumbent President Roosevelt won because his New Deal programs were very popular among the American people, apart from the respondents to the Literary Digest poll. The Republican nominee Alf Landon claimed that the new deal was too costly and ineffective, as well as that FDR was slowly making the U.S. a dictatorship. However, these attacks did not gain much traction.[3][citation needed]

United States presidential election, 1940[edit]

1940[2]
Month Franklin Roosevelt (D) % Wendell Willkie (R) %
July 48% 42%
44% 43%
August 45% 43%
46% 44%
September 49% 40%
October 50% 40%
51% 42%
52% 48%
Actual result 55% 45%
Difference between actual result and final poll +3% -3%

Throughout this campaign, Roosevelt promised that he would not bring the United States into any new wars if he was given another term and also promised to continue the New Deal. Willkie attacked FDR for seeking a third term and accused FDR of trying to turn the U.S. into a dictatorship by refusing to leave office. However, Willkie's attacks gained little traction, and FDR consistently led in all the polls and was reelected by a large margin.[4]

United States presidential election, 1944[edit]

1944[2]
Month Franklin Roosevelt (D) % Thomas Dewey (R) %
March 55% 41%
53% 42%
April 48% 46%
May 48% 47%
50% 45%
June 51% 45%
51% 44%
July 46% 45%
49% 41%
August 47% 42%
47% 45%
September 47% 42%
50% 45%
48% 41%
47% 45%
October 48% 47%
50% 47%
November 51% 48%
Actual result 53% 46%
Difference between actual result and final poll +2% -2%

FDR also actively campaigned in this election against his doctors' advice in order to counter Republican claims that he was close to death. FDR maintained a consistent (albeit sometimes narrow) lead in the polls at all times and won a solid victory in this election due to the American successes in World War II and Roosevelt's popularity.[5]

United States presidential election, 1948[edit]

1948[2]
Month Harry Truman (D) % Thomas Dewey (R) % Henry Wallace (Progressive) % Strom Thurmond (Dixiecrat) %
December 1947/January 1948 46% 41% 7%
February/March 39% 47% 7%
April/May
June/July 38% 49% 6%
37% 48% 5%
August/September 37% 48% 4% 2%
36% 49% 5% 3%
39% 47% 3% 2%
39% 47% 3% 2%
40% 46% 4% 2%
October/November 45% 50% 4% 2%
Actual result 50% 45% 2% 2%
Difference between actual result and final poll +5% -5% -2% 0%

Incumbent President Harry Truman's popularity was low at the end of 1946. However, he was able to regain his popularity by attacking the "Do-Nothing" Republican Congress of 1947-1948 and tying Dewey to it, and by energizing certain segments of the Democratic base through various actions such as ending segregation in the U.S. military and recognizing Israel.[6] Gallup, and other polling organizations, failed to identify Truman's comeback and to predict his victory in the 1948 election.[1]

United States presidential election, 1952[edit]

1952[2]
Month Dwight Eisenhower (R) % Adlai Stevenson (D) %
June 59% 31%
July 50% 43%
August
September 55% 40%
55% 41%
October 53% 41%
51% 38%
48% 39%
48% 39%
51% 49%
Actual result 55% 44%
Difference between actual result and final poll +4% -5%

Dissatisfaction with the Korean War, corruption, and the threat of Communism (K1c2) allowed popular World War II hero general Dwight Eisenhower to win the election in a huge landslide after consistently leading in the polls, mostly by large margins.[7]

United States presidential election, 1956[edit]

1956[2]
Month Dwight Eisenhower (R) % Adlai Stevenson (D) %
December 1955/January 1956 61% 35%
February/March 63% 33%
April/May 61% 37%
62% 33%
62% 35%
June/July 62% 35%
61% 37%
August/September 52% 41%
52% 41%
52% 40%
October/November 51% 41%
59% 40%
Actual result 57% 42%
Difference between actual result and final poll -2% +2%

After consistently leading in the polls by huge margins, popular incumbent President Dwight Eisenhower was easily reelected due to the economic prosperity at home and ending the Korean War abroad.[8][9]

United States presidential election, 1960[edit]

1960[2]
Month John F. Kennedy (D) % Richard Nixon (R) %
December 1959/January 1960 43% 48%
February/March 48% 48%
50% 45%
April/May 51% 44%
48% 47%
47% 49%
June/July 50% 46%
August/September 44% 50%
47% 47%
48% 47%
46% 47%
October/November 49% 46%
49% 45%
51% 49%
Actual result 50% 50%
Difference between actual result and final poll -1% +1%

The polls throughout this election always indicated a very close race. Incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon initially led in the polls, but then suffered some problems (a poor image in the first television debate, a knee injury which prevented him from campaigning) which caused John F. Kennedy to take the lead in the polls for most of the campaign. In the end JFK won an extremely narrow victory over Nixon.[10]

United States presidential election, 1964[edit]

1964[2]
Month Lyndon B. Johnson (D) % Barry Goldwater (R) %
June 77% 18%
76% 20%
July 62% 26%
59% 31%
August 65% 29%
September 65% 29%
62% 32%
October 64% 29%
64% 36%
Actual result 61% 38%
Difference between actual result and final poll -3% +2%

Incumbent President Lyndon Johnson always maintained a huge lead in the polls due to massive popular sympathy following the JFK assassination, a good economy, lack of severe foreign problems, and an effective campaign to portray Goldwater as a dangerous, out-of-touch extremist. Johnson won the election in a huge landslide as well.[11]

United States presidential election, 1968[edit]

1968[2]
Month Richard Nixon (R) % Hubert Humphrey (D) % George Wallace (American Independent) %
April 43% 34% 9%
May 39% 36% 14%
36% 42% 14%
June 37% 42% 14%
July 35% 40% 16%
40% 38% 16%
August 45% 29% 18%
September 43% 31% 19%
43% 28% 21%
44% 29% 20%
October 44% 36% 15%
November 43% 42% 15%
Actual result 43% 43% 14%
Difference between actual result and final poll 0% +1% -1%

This campaign was always close according to the polls, but after the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention and the riots near it, Nixon was able to establish a lead and consistently maintain it throughout the campaign. American Independent candidate George Wallace ran in opposition to civil rights and in support of segregation and thus got a lot of support in the South. Humphrey began catching up to Nixon in the polls late in the campaign but he ran out of time and Nixon won a narrow victory in the election itself.[12]

United States presidential election, 1972[edit]

1972[2]
Month Richard Nixon (R) % George McGovern (D) %
May 53% 34%
June 53% 37%
July 56% 37%
August 57% 31%
64% 30%
September 61% 33%
October 60% 34%
59% 36%
November 62% 38%
Actual result 61% 38%
Difference between actual result and final poll -1% 0%

Incumbent U.S. President Richard Nixon was always able to maintain a huge lead over Democratic challenger George McGovern due to the economic recovery following the 1969-1970 recession and due to successfully portraying McGovern as a foreign policy lightweight and as a social radical ("amnesty, abortion, and acid"). McGovern's campaign was also hurt by him having to change Vice Presidential candidates in the middle of the campaign, causing many people to question his judgement.[13]

United States presidential election, 1976[edit]

1976[2]
Month Jimmy Carter (D) % Gerald Ford (R) %
March 47% 42%
48% 46%
48% 46%
April 48% 43%
May 52% 42%
53% 40%
June 55% 37%
53% 36%
July 62% 29%
August 54% 32%
51% 36%
September 51% 40%
October 47% 45%
47% 41%
48% 49%
Actual result 50% 48%
Difference between actual result and final poll +2% -1%

Challenger Jimmy Carter was able to open up a huge lead over incumbent President Gerald Ford due to dissatisfaction with Watergate, Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, and the sluggish economy. Ford managed to close the gap near the end of the campaign by having some good debate performances (among other things). However, Ford was hurt by his comment saying that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and he ran out of time to close the polling gap with Carter, thus allowing Carter to pull off a narrow victory on election day.[14]

United States presidential election, 1980[edit]

1980[2]
Month Ronald Reagan (R) % Jimmy Carter (D) % John B. Anderson (I) %
December 1979/January 1980 33% 62%
February/March 31% 60%
33% 58%
34% 40% 21%
April/May 34% 41% 18%
32% 38% 21%
32% 40% 21%
June/July 32% 39% 21%
33% 35% 24%
37% 32% 22%
37% 34% 21%
August/September 45% 29% 14%
38% 39% 13%
39% 39% 14%
October/November 44% 40% 9%
45% 39% 9%
47% 44% 8%
Actual result 51% 41% 7%
Difference between actual result and final poll +4% -3% -1%

Incumbent President Jimmy Carter initially had a huge lead in the polls, due to the rally-around-the flag effect of the Iranian hostage crisis and the perceived extremism of Reagan. The continuing hostage crisis and the poor economy hurt Carter, and the prospect John B. Anderson running as an independent appealed to around 20% of Americans who saw Carter as a lesser evil to Reagan. As a result, Anderson took a third of Carter's support in the spring, but did not seem to hurt Reagan, despite Anderson being a Republican. Carter would never recover this loss of support, while Reagan would end up peeling around two-thirds of initial Anderson voters. This race remained close until near the end, when Reagan asked Americans if they were better off than they were four years ago. Afterwards Reagan managed to win a huge landslide victory in the general election.[15]

United States presidential election, 1984[edit]

1984[2]
Month Ronald Reagan (R) % Walter Mondale (D) %
December 1983/January 1984 48% 47%
53% 43%
February/March 52% 42%
50% 45%
52% 44%
April/May 54% 41%
52% 44%
50% 46%
53% 43%
June/July 53% 44%
55% 38%
51% 43%
53% 39%
53% 41%
August/September 52% 41%
56% 37%
58% 37%
55% 39%
October/November 58% 38%
56% 39%
59% 41%
Actual result 59% 41%
Difference between actual result and final poll 0% 0%

Incumbent President Ronald Reagan led in all pre-election polls and was able to secure an easy victory over Democratic opponent Walter Mondale due to the improving economy and falling unemployment rate.[16]

United States presidential election, 1988[edit]

1988[2]
Month George H. W. Bush (R) % Michael Dukakis (D) %
March 52% 40%
April 45% 43%
May 38% 54%
June 38% 52%
41% 46%
July 41% 47%
37% 54%
August 42% 49%
September 49% 41%
47% 42%
October 50% 40%
November 56% 44%
Actual result 53% 46%
Difference between actual result and final poll -3% +2%

Initially Democrat Michael Dukakis was able to open a huge lead in the polls. However, Vice President Bush's campaign successfully portrayed Dukakis as soft on crime and also used the good economy, Reagan's popularity, and his no new taxes pledge to close the gap with Dukakis in the polls and eventually open up a huge lead over Dukakis. Bush ended up winning the general election by a landslide.[17]

United States presidential election, 1992[edit]

1992[2]
Month Bill Clinton (D) % George H. W. Bush (R) % Ross Perot (I) %
March 25% 44% 24%
April 26% 41% 25%
May 29% 35% 30%
25% 35% 35%
June 25% 31% 39%
24% 32% 34%
27% 33% 32%
July 40% 48%
56% 34%
56% 36%
57% 32%
August 56% 37%
50% 39%
52% 42%
September 54% 39%
51% 42%
50% 40%
54% 38%
51% 35% 8%
October 47% 35% 10%
50% 34% 9%
51% 33% 10%
46% 34% 13%
47% 34% 14%
47% 29% 15%
44% 32% 17%
41% 30% 20%
42% 31% 19%
40% 38% 16%
41% 40% 14%
43% 36% 15%
November 49% 37% 14%
Actual result 43% 37% 19%
Difference between actual result and final poll -6% 0% +5%

In the spring and early summer, the polls fluctuated with incumbent President Bush and Reform challenger Ross Perot trading the lead in the polls. However, Perot withdrew from the race in July and Clinton was able to open up a consistent lead in the polls from July onward by blaming Bush for the poor economy and promising that he'll fix it (the economy, stupid). Perot returned to the race in September but was never able to recapture all his previous support and Clinton ended up winning the general election by a comfortable margin.[18]

United States presidential election, 1996[edit]

1996[2]
Month Bill Clinton (D) % Bob Dole (R) % Ross Perot (Reform) %
January 43% 39% 16%
February
March 47% 34% 17%
April 49% 35% 15%
May 47% 32% 19%
49% 35% 15%
June 49% 33% 17%
July 50% 33% 12%
50% 35% 10%
August 52% 30% 12%
48% 39% 7%
50% 38% 7%
51% 38% 7%
55% 34% 6%
September 53% 36% 5%
54% 36% 4%
55% 34% 5%
55% 34% 5%
55% 32% 6%
51% 34% 8%
50% 36% 6%
52% 36% 4%
53% 34% 6%
51% 38% 5%
49% 39% 6%
51% 37% 6%
57% 32% 5%
October 53% 36% 6%
51% 39% 5%
55% 35% 5%
55% 34% 6%
51% 38% 5%
56% 35% 4%
48% 39% 5%
51% 36% 8%
54% 35% 6%
52% 33% 8%
53% 34% 6%
54% 34% 7%
49% 37% 7%
51% 35% 10%
50% 37% 7%
November 52% 41% 7%
Actual result 49% 41% 8%
Difference between actual result and final poll -3% 0% +1%

Incumbent President Bill Clinton held a comfortable lead in the polls throughout this entire election cycle due to the good economy and stable international situation. Clinton ended up winning the general election by a landslide.[19]

United States presidential election, 2000[edit]

2000[2]
Month George W. Bush (R) % Al Gore (D) % Ralph Nader (Green) %
April 47% 41% 4%
May
June 46% 41% 6%
50% 38% 6%
July 45% 43% 5%
50% 39% 4%
August 54% 37% 4%
55% 39% 2%
46% 47% 3%
46% 45% 3%
September 44% 47% 3%
46% 45% 2%
42% 49% 3%
41% 49% 4%
42% 49% 2%
41% 49% 3%
44% 48% 2%
41% 51% 3%
42% 50% 2%
47% 44% 2%
46% 44% 2%
46% 44% 3%
45% 45% 4%
October 41% 49% 2%
40% 51% 2%
48% 41% 4%
50% 42% 4%
45% 45% 2%
45% 45% 3%
48% 43% 2%
47% 44% 3%
51% 40% 4%
44% 46% 4%
49% 42% 3%
52% 39% 4%
49% 42% 3%
47% 44% 3%
47% 43% 4%
November 47% 43% 4%
48% 46% 4%
Actual result 48%^ 48%^^ 3%
Difference between actual result and final poll 0% +2% -1%
  • ^Lost the popular vote, but won the electoral vote and thus won the election
  • ^^Won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote and thus lost the election

This election was close throughout the whole campaign since Gore was able to use the good economy to his advantage while being hurt by perceptions of him being still, charismatic, and unlikable. The Lewinsky scandal also might have hurt Gore and helped Bush in the polls among voters who were concerned about moral values. Finally, Gore was hurt by his refusal to campaign with incumbent President Bill Clinton, which could have turned out more Democrats to vote. In the end Gore won the popular vote but very narrowly lost Florida, the electoral vote, and the election.[20]

United States presidential election, 2004[edit]

2004[2]
Month George W. Bush (R) % John Kerry (D) %
March 44% 50%
49% 45%
April 47% 43%
50% 44%
May 47% 47%
47% 45%
46% 47%
June 43% 49%
48% 47%
July 45% 50%
46% 47%
51% 45%
August 48% 46%
48% 46%
September 52% 45%
52% 44%
October 49% 49%
48% 49%
52% 44%
51% 46%
49% 49%
Actual result 51% 48%
Difference between actual result and final poll +2% -1%

This election was close throughout the entire campaign. Dissatisfaction with the Iraq War and with a sluggish economy helped Kerry.[21] However, Bush accused Kerry of flip-flopping[22] and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth accused Kerry of being unpatriotic. A decisive moment came in a week before the election where Al-Qaeda released a video warning americans if they re-elected bush. Afterwards, Bush's poll ratings in decisive swing states gave Bush a comfortable lead. In the end, Bush managed to pull off a narrow victory in the general election.[2]

United States presidential election, 2008[edit]

2008[2]
Month Barack Obama (D) % John McCain (R) %
March 46% 44%
43% 47%
April 46% 43%
45% 45%
May 42% 48%
47% 43%
44% 47%
June 48% 41%
45% 45%
July 48% 42%
45% 44%
49% 40%
44% 44%
August 48% 42%
45% 45%
50% 42%
September 44% 49%
50% 44%
46% 46%
October 52% 41%
49% 43%
52% 42%
53% 40%
53% 42%
Actual result 53% 46%
Difference between actual result and final poll 0% +4%

The campaign was close throughout the spring and summer, with Obama and McCain both trading leads. The U.S. economy went into a recession in December 2007,[23] but initially Obama was hurt in the polls due to weak support from Hillary Clinton supporters.[24] The Republicans also attacked Obama for being inexperienced,[25] and McCain got a temporary bump in the polls after he picked Sarah Palin to be his Vice Presidential nominee. However, the financial crisis (which started in mid-September 2008) and doubts about Palin's qualifications to be President[26] allowed Obama to open up a consistent and comfortable lead in the polls in the beginning of October. Obama won the general election by a comfortable margin.[2]

United States presidential election, 2012[edit]

2012
Month Barack Obama (D) % Mitt Romney (R) %
April 45% 47%
49% 43%
46% 46%
May 44% 48%
47% 46%
45% 46%
June 47% 45%
48% 43%
July 48% 44%
47% 45%
46% 46%
46% 45%
August 47% 45%
45% 47%
47% 46%
September 49% 45%
50% 43%
50% 44%
October 50% 45%
46% 49%
48% 48%
48% 47%
November 49% 46%
Actual result 51% 47%
Difference between actual result and final poll +2% +1%

Early on, Barack Obama and his campaign aired negative attack ads hammering Republican challenger Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch, plutocratic, wealthy job destroyer, from his days as a corporate CEO at Bain Capital. Romney bounced back in the polls against the incumbent after strong performances in the primaries, and because the economy was still recovering from the 2007-2009 recession.

In April, after Obama publicly expressed his support of same-sex marriage, and a story of Romney bullying a kid in high school perceived to be gay was published, Obama took larger leads in the polls, however Romney and the GOP attacked Obama for falsely saying the economy was doing well, for welfare waivers, and also China's unfair trade practices. Throughout much of the summer, May, July, and August, with the exception of June, the polls stayed close, as Romney made several "gaffes" on a foreign trip to Europe and Israel while visiting that month during the time of the 2012 Summer Olympics. After the conventions, it was clear that Obama had the lead, as he led in all polls from every major publication. However, after a poor showing in the first debate, Romney took the lead and had the polls tied in early October, up to mid October.

From mid-October onward, the Democrats regained their momentum. Obama won re-election by a relatively close margin in the popular vote, but by a large margin in the Electoral College.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "poll" in 'The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.' New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. OCLC 746941797. Retrieved September 24, 2012.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "Gallup Presidential Election Trial-Heat Trends, 1936-2008". gallup.com. Gallup, Inc. Retrieved 30 August 2012. 
  3. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1936 Roosevelt v. Landon". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  4. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1940 Roosevelt v. Willkie". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  5. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1944 Roosevelt v. Dewey". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  6. ^ P.O. Box 400406 (2012-08-22). "American President: Harry S. Truman: Campaigns and Elections". Millercenter.org. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  7. ^ "Election of 1952". Historycentral.com. 2008-12-20. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  8. ^ "BBC ON THIS DAY | 7 | 1956: Eisenhower re-elected with record vote". BBC News. 1956-11-07. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  9. ^ "1956: We Still Like Ike". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  10. ^ "Campaign of 1960 - John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum". Jfklibrary.org. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  11. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1964 Johnson v. Goldwater". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  12. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1968 Nixon v. Humphrey". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  13. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1972 Nixon v. McGovern". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  14. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1976 Carter v. Ford". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  15. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1980 Reagan v. Carter". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  16. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1984 Reagan v. Mondale". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  17. ^ "1988 Bush v. Dukakis". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  18. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1992 Clinton v. Bush". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  19. ^ Derrick Dickey. "1996 Clinton v. Dole". Kennesaw.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  20. ^ "2000 Presidential Election Overview". Gwu.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  21. ^ "The First Bush Administration". Icpsr.umich.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  22. ^ "Lexington: John Kerry, flip-flopper?". The Economist. 2004-03-27. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  23. ^ Isidore, Chris (2008-12-01). "It's official: U.S. in a recession since December 2007 - Dec. 1, 2008". Money.cnn.com. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  24. ^ "If McCain vs. Obama, 28% of Clinton Backers Go for McCain". Gallup.com. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  25. ^ August 27, 2008 (2008-08-27). "GOP cheers Obama's historic stride, but doubts his experience - CNN". Articles.cnn.com. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  26. ^ Rowley, James (2008-09-05). "Half of Voters Doubt Palin Has Necessary Experience, Poll Says". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2012-09-21.