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Why Reagan Fell Short

In response to:

Reagan: The Triumph of Tone from the March 10, 2016 issue

To the Editors:

Nicholas Lemann makes many interesting points in his review of two books about Ronald Reagan [“Reagan: The Triumph of Tone,” NYR, March 10]. But one statement may leave a misimpression for those who don’t follow elections. Lemann says Reagan had “two landslides…in the electoral college—in the presidential elections of 1980 and 1984. No presidential candidate…since Reagan has been as popular on election day as he was.”

By discussing the electoral college results and “popularity” in this way, Lemann leaves out the fact that Reagan won only 50.7 percent of the popular vote in 1980. Still enough to win, but not a landslide in the popular tally. Reagan was hardly the overwhelming choice of the voters. It is true that in 1984, Reagan won a landslide in both the popular vote and electoral college. But that was not the case in 1980.

Joe Daunt
Portland, Oregon

Nicholas Lemann replies:

The reason Reagan got such a relatively modest popular vote percentage in 1980 was that there was a third-party candidate in the race—John Anderson, who got 6.6 percent of the vote. Anderson ran as an independent, but he was a long-serving Republican congressman from Illinois, and I’d guess that nearly all his votes were taken from Reagan rather than Carter. In 1984 there was no third-party candidate, and that’s why Reagan’s percentage was so much higher.