Why 1988 does and doesn't work as a comparison for the 2020 election

Michael Dukakis.
(Image credit: AP Photo)

President Trump can cite 1988 as proof that summer polling doesn't always hold up when presidential election ballots are tallied in November. That year, the Republican nominee, George H.W. Bush, who was serving as former President Ronald Regan's vice president, was trailing his Democratic opponent, then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, by as many as 17 points in a July Gallup poll. Ultimately, Bush went on to win handily.

But there are several reasons why following the Bush campaign's attack heavy strategy won't necessarily work for the Trump re-election campaign. Per The New York Times, Dukakis' record wasn't very well-known at the time, so the Bush camp took advantage of his support of prison furloughs and death penalty opposition, which became the focus of many attack ads.

This year, though, the country is much more familiar with the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. "This is going to be tricky for them: Biden is a pretty well-known quantity," said Susan Estrich, Dukakis' campaign manager. "The way you usually burst balloons is paint the the other guy as a risk."

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Biden has also been much more aggressive at pushing back against the Trump campaign's attacks, whereas Dukakis chose not to fight back, a decision he said he's come to regret.

Still, while 1988 may not be a perfect comparison, there are some similarities, including the fact that Biden has been leaning into more progressive ideas in an attempt to unify the fracturing Democratic Party, said Charlie Black, who worked as a senior adviser to Bush. That could provide the Trump campaign an opening as the two sides race to snatch up late-deciding voters.

The most reassuring thing for the Trump campaign, though, is the fact that the polling gap is already smaller than the one between Dukakis and Bush. Read more at The New York Times.

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