Traditional Values in the 1980 Election

Prior to the 1980 presidential election, middle class American families focused on traditional and religious values.  The 1968 election of Richard Nixon brought into the spotlight a new anti-liberal message supported by Americans in response to these social changes due to issues such as the Vietnam War and a declining economy. Many families began to come together to form small grassroots community based organizations desiring change for local based issue. This was mostly a fear based movement that America was beginning to change on a national level due to the governments influence in people’s lives. These grassroots organizations grew with time by supporting traditional Christian and family values to fight against the perceived moral decline of America.

Throughout the 1970s, concerns grew over issues such as race riots, antiwar protests, the sexual revolution, the feminist movement, and desegregation in schools. The Republican Party used these concerns to capitalize on a new message of reestablishing the American values that they believed this country was founded on to save the nation’s future.  Ronald Reagan emerged to popularity as a figurehead for the Republican Party highlighting the importance of keeping these American values alive.  It also benefitted the republican cause that he was a Democrat who switched party lines to support these values that he believed the founding fathers established and sparked a revolution over.  It was speeches over traditional values that elevated Reagan to one of the Republicans most admired politicians as he seized the position of governor of California in 1966.

 Reagan continued to preach this message throughout his role as governor until 1976 before running for the republican’s candidacy for the presidency.  He lost the primary to Gerald Ford, but Carter’s following term created a vacuum of political authority with an opportunity for Reagan to finally capitalize on his message of traditional values.  With the two energy crises of the 1970s, the stagflation of the American economy, and the Iranian hostage situation of 1979, the democratic party had lost its traction in the united states.  Reagan had the fortuity to win over many voters who were looking for a new message for American politics. One major area of support that Reagan received during his campaign was from the newly formed Moral Majority. 

The Moral Majority was a coalition of evangelical Christians led by televangelist Jerry Falwell.  These fundamental Christian speakers supported Reagan’s message and gave testimonies, advertisements, and other forms of support with sermons on public television, radio, and in churches.  Reagan took advantage of this support by speaking to large Christian audiences, securing this voter base that had previously support Carter as the governor of Georgia prior to his election as President.  Reagan used rhetoric such as claiming Roe v. Wade allowed “abortion on demand”, arguing against a large controlling government. With the support of grassroots organizations of middle class workers and national organizations such as the Moral Majority, Reagan received the support of a previously democratic voter base who choose to vote for family values instead of previous political ties.



By Robert Fritsche, Ryan Compoli, Sarah Hall, and Michelle Fleenor