The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns

By D. Sunshine Hillygus; Todd G. Shields | Go to book overview

Four

Capturing Campaign Persuasion

MACOMB COUNTY, MICHIGAN, a suburban county just north of Detroit, was the most Democratic suburban county in the nation in 1960, voting 63 percent for John F. Kennedy. In 1984, the county gave 67 percent of its votes to the Republican candidate Ronald Reagan. Pollster Stanley Greenberg conducted a study of Macomb County to figure out why so many traditional Democrats had begun to cast their ballots for a Republican presidential candidate.1

What Greenberg found was widespread sentiment among white blue-collar men that they were “getting a raw deal” from the Democratic Party, which they viewed as beholden to minority interests and caught up in the civil rights movement. Most of the disaffected Democrats Greenberg spoke to were unionized auto workers who were supportive of Democratic policies on social security, education, and health care, but were conservative on issues like busing and welfare, and hawkish on foreign policy.

Reagan appealed to these working-class Democrats by emphasizing patriotism, anticommunism, religion and family values, as with his 1984 campaign commercial that scrolls through images of rolling farms, steel mills, coal miners, and churches to the tune of Lee Greenwood's “I'm Proud to Be an American.” In nearly every campaign stump speech, Reagan promised to cut taxes, strengthen the military, and reduce regulation, and then he would explicitly reach out to Democrats in the crowd, “To all those Democrats who have been loyal to the party of FDR, Harry Truman, and JFK, but who believe that its current leaders have changed that party, that they no longer stand firmly for America's responsibilities in the world, that they no longer protect the working people of this country, we say to them, 'Join us. Come walk with us down the new path of hope and opportunity.' 2

In this chapter, we examine the influence of campaign efforts on the vote decisions of the electorate to evaluate whether cross-pressured partisans and Independents are more responsive to campaign appeals.

1 Greenberg, Middle Class Dreams.

2 Stump speech, Endicott, New York, 12 September 1984, Annenberg/Pew Archive of
Presidential Campaign Discourse.

-82-

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