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Ronald Reagan: Election and domestic policies

AP.USH:
KC‑9.1.I.A (KC)
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KC‑9.1.I.B (KC)
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PCE (Theme)
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Unit 9: Learning Objective B
Read about Reagan's early political career, election, and policies at home. 

Overview

  • Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican, won the 1980 presidential election in a landslide. He won reelection in 1984 by one of the largest margins in US history.
  • Reagan’s campaign brought together a “New Right” coalition of economic conservatives, members of the Christian Right, working-class whites, and supporters of a more aggressive Cold War foreign policy.
  • President Reagan initially engineered large tax cuts, but as deficits grew proposed select tax increases. Over the course of his presidency, inflation and unemployment fell, while the national debt nearly tripled.

The political career of Ronald Reagan

A two-term President (1981-1989), Ronald Reagan headed one of the most successful coalitions of political conservatives in American history. Born in 1911 in northern Illinois, a graduate of Eureka College, Reagan was a Hollywood actor—and six-term head of the Screen Actors Guild—before taking up a job as spokesperson for General Electric Corporation in the 1950s.start superscript, 1, end superscript
Photograph of Ronald Reagan.
Official portrait of President Reagan. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Though he had been a liberal Democrat into his forties, Reagan became a free-market political conservative in the 1950s, and formally switched party affiliations to become a Republican in 1962. During his two terms as governor of California (1967-1975), Reagan was a vocal critic of the expansion of government.squared
In his 1980 campaign for the US presidency, Reagan promised to cut taxes, increase defense spending, promote deregulation, and balance the federal budget. Reagan also promised to end the double-digit inflation that characterized Jimmy Carter's presidency, and restore both Americans' faith in their country and America’s status in the world. “Let’s make America great again,” the candidate and his campaign posters declared.cubed
Reagan also addressed key concerns of the Religious Right. He called for a “return to spiritual values” as a means of strengthening traditional families and communities, advocated a Constitutional amendment to ban abortion, and another Constitutional amendment to permit organized prayer in public schools.start superscript, 4, end superscript
President Reagan earned the nickname “The Great Communicator” for his plain-spoken, self-effacing, and humorous manner of public speaking. In both his first and second terms he exuded an upbeat optimism about the nation’s domestic and international future, an attitude captured in both of his inaugural addresses as well as in his 1984 reelection campaign television commercial, “Morning in America.”start superscript, 5, end superscript

Reaganomics

President Reagan’s supply-side economic policies, often called Reaganomics, set out to grow the economy by cutting taxes and deregulating some industries. Supply-side economics depended on the idea that corporations and wealthy individuals would reinvest the money they saved by paying lower taxes to build businesses, create jobs, boost profits, and spur economic growth. In Reagan’s first year in office he engineered a three-stage 25 percent income tax reduction. In the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the top marginal rate (the tax paid by the highest income earners) was lowered to 28 percent.start superscript, 6, end superscript
Deregulation, or the removal of government regulations on some industries, would, it was hoped, lower costs and boost profits for employers while lowering prices for consumers. During Reagan's first term, the trucking and telephone industries were deregulated, and clean air standards for cars were lowered.start superscript, 7, end superscript
Reagan often said that "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem," and memorably quipped: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help." In practice, however, Reagan was more moderate than his language let on. He cut taxes when possible, but aggregate tax receipts during his presidency remained similar to those of his more liberal predecessors.start superscript, 8, end superscript
Although Democrats blocked many of his efforts to limit government expenditures through cuts to social welfare programs, Reagan succeeded in making cuts to spending on food stamps, low-income housing, and school lunch programs. He also reduced the percentage of federal expenditures on education and promoted the transfer of some federal control and expenditures to state governments.start superscript, 9, end superscript

What do you think?

Why do you think that Reagan switched party affiliations in the 1950s?
Does supply-side economics work? Why or why not?
What are some of the attributes of President Reagan’s public speaking abilities that led him to be called "The Great Communicator”?

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user Brett Kottmann
    You should be using a measure of debt compared to GDP. By this measure (which allows you to compare across other administrations) the debt did not triple. It didn't even double. Also, the fact that tax receipts went up while tax rates went down proves that Supply Side economics works, as that is one of the central pillars of that theory. Shouldn't those items be updated to reflect that?
    (17 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user willayers
    how did Reagan get to be a Hollywood actor ?
    (7 votes)
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    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user briancsherman
      He was in theater in high school and college. After college he got a job as a sports announcer. While he was traveling with the Chicago Cubs in California he took a screen test that led to a contract with Warner Brothers. He was in his first movie in 1937.
      (15 votes)
  • duskpin tree style avatar for user imogen kone
    so...I noticed that one of the slogans from Reagan's political posters was "make America great again". this slogan was also used in Trump's campaign. would this be plagiarism?
    (6 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Kian
    What does it mean to be a The Great Communicator
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf blue style avatar for user Ari
    well it would make sense for him to win in a landslide if he used to be a Democrat and also running in the Republican party
    (2 votes)
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    • spunky sam red style avatar for user Adam Y. Soliman
      You have to remember that Reagan became estranged from the Democrats pretty early on in his career (1940s) so well before he became president. One also has to understand Reagan's ability to unify the key factions of the Republican Party: The Religious Right and the Free Marketers. His ability to do this during his time as governor of CA, the presidential campaign, and during his presidency, helped make him popular with Republicans as well as those weary of big government.
      (6 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Furry.Wolf
    did he succeed at keeping taxes down?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      No. According to a 2017 article in Bloomberg News,
      "The 1981 tax cut reduced revenue by an average of 2.89 percent of gross domestic product over the four years after it was enacted,... but... the four-year average revenue impact of the next seven significant tax changes approved by Congress, in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1990 and 1993, ... equaled 2.98 percent of gross domestic product." So, though he lowered taxes on the richest Americans, and on the poorest, too, he didn't keep total taxes down.
      (1 vote)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Sawyer West
    Is it correct to say, Ronald Reagan lowered the taxes at first using concepts of Keynesian economics and when he saw the economy was going beyond its comfortably production rate, he increased taxes to cool down the economy? I don't know much history from his two terms, but this is what I can infer from the page above. Was my inference correct?
    (2 votes)
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  • starky seed style avatar for user Jesus
    He did stuff that the people liked and that why they called him the great communicator and did his job right like a president
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf grey style avatar for user Keegan Ginest
    Did Ronald Reagan become President before or after May 18, 1980?
    (1 vote)
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  • starky seed style avatar for user daniel.exume
    how do you promise to cut taxes but also say your gonna increase defense budget lolllllllll
    (0 votes)
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