The Reagan Attack on
TRADITIONAL DEMOCRATIC LIBERALISM reached a political nadir in the election of 1984. For the first time in twenty years, the leadership of core Democratic party constituencies—from organized labor to feminists, from old-line city clubs to reform liberals, along with much of the black leadership—coalesced behind the nomination of one candidate, Walter F. Mondale. The intention and the fundamental strategy of these core constituencies was to restore the Democratic coalition, to capitalize on the recession of 1981-82, and to revive Republican liability as the party of Herbert Hoover and of the Great Depression. When the ballots were counted on November 6, 1984, however, it was Mondale, the Democratic standard bearer, who replicated Hoover's performance—losing the majority-party vote to Reagan by exactly the same margin that Hoover lost to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, 59.2 percent to 40.8 percent. 1
The 1984 election marked a major shift in the movement toward the Republican party in presidential elections. From 1968 to 1980, the white South had been the driving force in the realignment of presidential politics, the leading indicator of a national trend. In 1984, the precincts in white, working-class neighborhoods in the urban North joined the South in propelling a presidential realignment, as the eroding Democratic loyalty of these voters transformed itself from ambivalence to outright rejection. The 1984 election demonstrated that the policy agenda developed by the Reagan administration once in office—an agenda designed to sustain the racial and economic polarization that had emerged in force in the 1980 election—had worked to nurture and enlarge the Republican presidential voting base established in 1980.