The Election of 1980: Reports and Interpretations

By Gerald M. Pomper; Marlene Michels Pomper | Go to book overview

7
The Meaning of the Election

WILSON CAREY MC WILLIAMS

It didn't mean much. The election of 1980 did not try our souls; it tried our patience. Matthew Josephson's description of the election of 1880 applied a century later: "the indifference of the public seems as marked as the excitement of the professionals seems feigned."1

Reagan had a zealous following and there were some Carter loyalists, but most voters saw little to recommend either. Carter was a humorless bungler and Reagan was an amiable simpleton, "the Ted Baxter of American politics."2 Even the enthusiasm for John Anderson was negative, deriving from distaste for the major-party nominees. A good many voters marked their ballots in a mood of revulsion, and masses of citizens stayed home. The majority of voters finally decided, probably on the basis of the presidential debate, that Reagan was not so kooky as to keep them from gratifying their desire to be rid of Carter. Reagan will have four years to try his hand, but Americans stopped believing in progress in 1980, and few of them feel any confidence in the new experiment. That is the central meaning of the election of 1980.

The election does have other things to tell us. In the first place, the election of 1980 made it clear that the primary-dominated system of nomination is an unqualified disaster. Second, among Democrats, the old Roosevelt coalition is yielding to something we can call the Kennedy coalition. Third, conservative Republicanism is experiencing its own, analogous change, and conservatism may find victory more painful than defeat. The election may, of course, prove to have far more profound and far-reaching consequences for American politics, but no such portents are visible. We will have to wait and see.


THE FAILURE OF THE PRIMARIES

In 1980, there were more primaries than ever and a record number of voters participated in choosing the candidates. Yet, in a seeming paradox, the result

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The Election of 1980: Reports and Interpretations
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Election of 1980 *
  • Contents *
  • Tables *
  • Figures *
  • Preface vii
  • 1: The Nominating Contests 1
  • 2: Issues in the Presidential Campaign 38
  • 3: The Presidential Election 65
  • 4: Public Opinion Trends 97
  • 5: The Congressional Elections 119
  • 6: Outlook for the Reagan Administration 142
  • 7: The Meaning of the Election 170
  • Inaugural Address of President Ronald Reagan 189
  • Index 195
  • Index Compiled by David, Marc, and Miles Pomper *
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