Carter v. Reagan: The Economy and the Election of 1980

The Presidential Election of 1980 marked an important milestone in economic policy. Ronald Reagan, the Republican nominee, fiercely campaigned against democratic President Jimmy Carter. The economy became the hot-topic of the election because the nation recently suffered an economic recession from 1973-1975. In addition, “stagflation” resulted in high inflation coupled with rising unemployment, further hindering the U.S. economy.

The two candidates focused on economic reforms in order to solve the nation's crises. Reagan ran on the slogan of “Make America Great Again,” which touched on Carter’s failure to improve the nation during his term in office. His campaign also centered on restoring America’s economic health through supply-side economics, which proposed investing in capital. These policies included a reduction in taxes especially in the upper tax brackets and less government intervention in order to encourage American investment, which would ideally spur the economy on all levels.  In order to achieve this, Reagan promised to reduce taxes by 30% over his presidency. Reagan’s policy opposed the post-World War II Keynesian consensus of government intervention to create a thriving economy, and increase consumer demand. In addition, Reagan’s campaign promised a balanced budget. Reagan told of an economic revival that would ultimately affect all sectors of the population. 

In contrast, Carter’s economic policy portrayed a more gloomy perspective on the nation’s economic situation. One of Carter’s slogans was “Carter and Mondale: A Tested and Trustworthy Team,” in hopes that the American people would trust this ticket's ability to weather the storm that was the past 4 years. His economic policies focused on eliminating the recession, while combatting high inflation. Carter also sought to have full employment in the United States by emphasizing investment, innovation, and more efficient government programs. Carter’s campaign attacked Reagan's policies and contended Reagan would eliminate important welfare programs that benefited the needy. 

Carter’s campaign proved ineffective, and Reagan was able to persuade the national audience of his leadership skills. Reaganomics also became the solution for the failing liberal consenus that dominated Washington politics during the post-war era. Reagan’s optimistic outlook on America’s future appealed to average Americans who suffered due to the seemingly failing economy. Americans ultimately sought a candidate who would fix the economy rather than a candidate who just identified the problem.

Credits

Lilly Andersson, Liam Delehanty, Macy Foster, and Matt Mulligan