Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States

By James L. Sundquist | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
The Reagan Revolution--and After

EARLY IN 1973, the rate of inflation, which had been accelerating steadily since the early years of the Vietnam War, reached the double-digit level for the first time. By 1974, it had settled there, and when the country voted in the congressional elections in November the consumer price index stood 12 percent higher than a year earlier. In a Gallup poll just before the election an overwhelming 79 percent of the respondents named inflation as the country's "most important problem."1 In early 1973, also, the Watergate scandal began to unravel, and that national trauma gripped the country until it was resolved with President Nixon's forced resignation in August 1974. Those combined events gave the Democratic party a landslide electoral triumph in 1974, and the persistence of inflation--as well as the persistence of Watergate as an issue once President Ford had pardoned his predecessor--contributed to putting Jimmy Carter in the White House in the 1976 election.

The public reaction against Nixon and his party apparently had at least some effect on underlying loyalties as well. While the Center for Political Studies (CPS) survey revealed only a 1-point decline in Republican party identification between 1972 and 1974 (see figure 17-1), the more volatile Gallup poll reported a 5-point drop, eroding more than one-sixth of the party's 1972 strength. Both polls agreed that the GOP commanded the allegiance of the smallest proportion of the electorate in the history of those surveys--around 23 percent--which would be, of course, the lowest level of support since the party was formed more than a century before. Of voters under thirty years of age, Gallup showed only 14 percent Republican in the autumn of 1975, compared to 40 percent Democratic.2 The Republicans' progress in the South, which had been spectacular and uninterrupted for two decades (see figures 12-2 and 15-1), came to an abrupt halt. And the party showed no appreciable rebound, either in that region or the rest of the country, for the remainder of the 1970s.

____________________
1
Public Opinion, July-August 1978, p. 31.
2
"Campaign ' 76," Gallup Opinion Index, report no. 125 (November-December 1975), p. 83.

-412-

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