In the 1980 GOP race - before wrapping up the nomination - Reagan had the support of 55 percent of Republican voters, compared to 25 percent for G.H.W. Bush, who challenged the former California Governor for the party's nod.
Today, John McCain's hold on Republicans bears a striking similarity to the dynamics of the 1980 race. The Arizona Senator is backed by a 51 percent Republican majority at this stage of the 2008 primaries, compared to the standing for his last remaining challenger, Mike Huckabee, who comes in at 29 percent.
McCain's support among Republican voters this year is just 4 percentage points lower than Reagan in 1980, a statistically insignificant gap, as it falls within the traditional margin of sampling error. Not just that, the 1980 data are drawn from February 29-March 3 of that year, whereas the 2008 data are drawn from February 11-13 of this month, roughly three weeks earlier in the nomination season.
Thus, McCain, who's been disparaged as RINO - with at least two far-right wing conservative pundits pledged to vote for the Democratic nominee - resides in a historical comparison that measures up favorable to President Reagan, the icon of the conservative movement, and one of the 20th century's greatest chief executives.
Here's more from Gallup:
Gallup Poll Daily election tracking makes it possible to place McCain's current status as his party's presumptive nominee in historical perspective by providing the basis for a comparison to the support other front-runners have enjoyed in previous elections.A look at other GOP election matchups shows McCain generally further behind the frontrunner for that contest, including McCain's own 57 to 34 percent gap behind G.W. Bush in 2000.
At some point in every election, once a party's nominee is essentially known and agreed upon, Gallup has quit asking members of that party about the nomination process and has moved to asking about the general election. So the "final" nomination survey each election year serves as an interesting indicator of the overall support level that nominee was receiving among members of his party at the time he was deemed (by Gallup editors at any rate) to have the nomination sewn up.
McCain is not quite yet at that point. But the analysis of where previous front-runners were when they were assumed to have the nomination in hand provides a framework to use in calibrating just how "wounded" a nominee McCain may be. At this point, it can be said that while McCain's current 51% support for his presumptive candidacy is not overwhelming based on Gallup's historical record, it is not unprecedentedly low either. And there is still room for McCain to improve his standing in the days ahead.
There are, of course, many Republicans among the conservative base who have still not rallied to the McCain banner, and many never will. But it's not accurate to say that McCain's failed to rally the support of his party.
See also the Gallup video, "GOP Yet to Rally Around McCain."