Election 1984

September 14, 1984

Report Outline
Mass and Direct Appeals
Interest-Group Appeals
Electoral Geography

Mass and Direct Appeals

Presidential Race Ideology, Demographics

In his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention in Dallas Aug. 23, President Reagan described the 1984 presidential election as a historic contest between two political philosophies: the conservatism of Reagan and the Republican Party vs. the liberalism of Walter F. Mondale and the Democrats. “America is presented with the clearest political choice of half a century,” Reagan said. It can be argued that ideological differences were as sharp in the contest between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater in 1964, and between Richard M. Nixon and George S. McGovern in 1972. But the 1984 election does feature two sharply opposite political programs.

Reagan's agenda features restraint in taxation and government spending on domestic programs; it portrays the poor as gaining more from general economic growth and self-initiative than from government programs. Reagan also favors rapid growth in defense spending and a more confrontational approach toward the Soviet Union than that of recent presidents. Mondale, on the other hand, stands for higher taxes if necessary to diminish the federal budget deficit; government assistance to the poor, especially minority-group members, in education, job training and nutrition; more moderate growth in defense spending; and a cautious but conciliatory attitude toward the Soviets, including advocacy of a nuclear weapons “freeze.”

Although there appears to be a clear ideological choice in this election, the inevitable claim by the eventual winner that his victory is a “mandate” for his political philosophy will probably be overstated. Only a minority of voters take such a doctrinaire approach; in fact, most Americans have only a marginal interest in politics. Many votes will be cast more on the basis of general impressions about the candidates or the state of the nation.

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