My first memory of an election was back in November 1976 when I was in Kindergarten. The election was between two fine men, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Neither will be identified as a great President, but both were able and good men. America was trying to forget about Watergate and Vietnam and were looking for a Washington outsider. Carter wins a very close one, but I don't think Carter and Ford were politically that much different except that Carter was much more of a micro manager while Ford was more about looking at the big picture. Both were moderates....at least at the time they were considered moderates.
1980 was a year of change: the economy was deep in Stagflation, with high unemployment, high inflation, and high interest rates. I won't blame Carter for all of this, but he had one of the worst cabinets in modern day history. Reagan comes in, surrounds himself with a strong cabinet, and rights the ship.
1984...yawn. Listening to Fritz Mondale was like watching paint dry. This election had no meaning whatsover to me.
1988: The Reagan revolution still had not played its final tune. Dukakis had limited appeal while Bush was probably more moderate than Reagan, more gentle. Another landslide.
1992: My first election whereby I could vote. We had three good candidates: Ross Perot, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. This was a very meaningful election with electing the first Baby Boomer as President. Bill Clinton seemed to relate and identify with the people much more than George H. W. Bush and H. Ross Perot.
1996: Bob Dole! Dole was old, Clinton was young. Both were bright individuals, but Clinton had charisma while Dole did not. A strong economy pushed Clinton over.
2000: Gore v. Bush. Both candidates campaigned over what to do with the surpluses as opposed to having to argue about reducing the deficit. Looking back, this was a very important election. I was fairly lukewarm towards both candidates, but Gore wins the popular vote, Bush wins the electoral vote and the election.
2004: John Kerry was a weak candidate. He came off distant and aloof...and still came close to winning the election. We really started seeing much more rhetoric and spinning in this election than ever before.
2008: This was a very important election. Very few had any idea that we would see such a deep, global recession. The swing voters went with the younger guy, Barack Obama.
2012: The economy was still not in good shape. However, the Republicans ended up consolidating around a candidate, Mitt Romney, with very little charisma. Most of the Republican pundits admitted that Romney could not win the election without some major help. President Obama's operation was a fundraising machine, and the get out the vote pulled him to a sizable electoral college victory.
Looking back, probably the best elections in my lifetime was 1976, 1980, and 1992. Carter will go down as a very mediocre President while Reagan and Clinton will both be considered a better than average President.
Some will say "George W. Bush is the worst President" or "Barack Obama is the worst President". I absolutely laugh. Between Andrew Jackson (#7 President) and Abraham Lincoln (#16 President), only one president (Polk) was any good. The rest were a laughingstock. I'd rank John Quincy Adams, William Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan much worse than any modern day President. Other bad Presidents would be Howard Taft (horrible President, great Supreme Court Justice), Warren Harding (totally inept), Grover Cleveland (no idea about finances), and Benjamin Harrison (same as Cleveland).
Our country has become way too polarized. We tend to think in terms of Democrats and Republicans when we really should be thinking in terms of Americans.
My favorite Presidents of all time are Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Thomas Jefferson, and JFK. All had their weaknesses, but all were tremendous leaders.