1980–Reagan in Mississippi–Emily Sproul
The 1980 presidential election was between Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush for the Republican Party, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale for the Democratic Party, and John Anderson and Patrick Lucey for the Independent Party. The election featured many television ads to support the two main candidates and seemed to be a serious and competitive race. The outcome of the election demonstrated otherwise however; the contest was not even close with Reagan getting 489 electoral votes and 44 states. Carter was left with six states as well as DC while Anderson, as a rather insignificant contender, won none.
What was the reason that allowed Reagan to win this by incredible a margin of victory? There were several contributing factors that led voters to go with Reagan as opposed to Carter. First were the issues within the Unites States at the time. The country was facing a period of low economic growth, high inflation, and high interest rates. These problems at home were only more depressing when seen alongside the problems abroad. At the time of the election, the United States was in the midst of a prolonged international entanglement with Iran. These were problems that the Carter administration had inherited from the 1970s persisted, leaving the American people a general feeling of dissatisfaction and hopelessness. Because Carter had been unable to resolve these problems, the American people lost faith in his ability to competently run the country. This was a major factor in Reagan’s landslide victory.
There were other factors as well however that contributed to Reagan’s victory besides these political factors such as the historical and social factors of the Great Depression. The current economic situation in the United States at the time of the 1980 election can be traced back to its roots in the Great Depression of the 1930s. During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt had instituted the New Deal, a program designed to pull the country out of the Depression by expanding governmental control over almost every aspect of the economy. The entire purpose of this program was government control, government run, government-in-charge. Roosevelt wanted the government to be the primary agent to lead the country back to its greatness before the banking crisis and the Depression and employed a great amount of rhetoric to establish this governmental authority. Therefore, the American people became reliant on the government to solve their problems, exactly as Roosevelt wanted them to. Reagan however did not agree with this philosophy of government as he also had previously pointed out in a speech he gave in 1964 endorsing Barry Goldwater entitled “A Time for Choosing.” Reagan was not a proponent of big government and wanted to reduce the extent of the government’s influence but also re-instill the sentiment of self empowerment among the American people.
This goal was specifically mentioned in his address at the Neshoba County Fair when Reagan said that he wanted to “Bring back the recognition that the people of this country can solve the problems, that we don’t have anything to be afraid of as long as we have the people of America.” Reagan then went on to specifically detail his intentions to accomplish this goal of reducing the size and limit the influence of the federal government such as giving the states more power or turning responsibility over to the American people. This point can be seen as Reagan’s most significant point because he spent the longest amount of time talking about this than any other topic mentioned.
As a whole, this speech exhibits stylistic features which are particularly characteristic of Reagan. Reagan’s method of giving speeches was somewhat more like a conversation with his audience more than a presentation given to them. His speeches also typically featured many stories of his personal life and experience. This speech was no different. This style led him to have a very intimate feel and is most similar to the sweet style exemplified by Bill Clinton. Clinton however used many “you” or second person constructions while Reagan used a combination of “you” and “we” constructions.
All in all however, this speech allowed Reagan to demonstrate why he was a better candidate than Carter, specifically mention some of his intentions regarding policy were he to take office, as well as continue to build a personable rapport between he and his audience by using a very personable style.
Frum, David. How We Got Here: The ’70s. Basic Books (2000), New York: New York. 292.
Reagan, Ronald. Speech at the Neshoba County Fair. 3 Aug, 1980.http://neshobademocrat.com/main.asp?SectionID=2&SubSectionID=297&ArticleID=15599&TM=60417.67.
Reagan, Ronald. “A Time for Choosing.” 27 Oct 1964. http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/reference/timechoosing.html.