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This analytic essay, entitled The Presidential Elections of Ronald Reagan in 1980 & George Bush in 2004 Under Analysis, seeks to draw a comparison between the elections of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George W. Bush in 2004. The author illustrates major differences and weaknesses in two surveyed articles on the relevant elections – Cary R. Covington, et. al., in Shaping a Candidate’s Image in the Press: Ronald Reagan and and the 1980 Presidential Election and D. Sunshine Hillygus and Todd G. Shields, eds., The persuadable voter: wedge issues in presidential campaigns – and seeks to ascertain why the authors have created the analyses that they have and to examine their assumptions and, in doing so, undertake a comparison between them.

The author has drawn inspiration from the referenced works, which are very specialised and informative. The authors referred to are among the most frequently cited regarding the topics of the presidential elections under survey. However, the author did not discover a single book focusing solely on a comparison between the presidential elections of 1980 and 2004. In addition, the author discusses the relevance and importance of theoretical power in terms of the use of evidence and data. Through this, we may discover that in these articles we have to stand with assesses as well as with critique, because they are some issues which the analyses referred to above were not concerned with. For this reason, the essay may be of particular use for the future work of other students, professors and scholars.

Firstly, we will try to shortly summarise the argument of each, then assess and critique the argument in terms of its logical consistency and use of evidence and data. Secondly, using our theoretical faculties, we will try to discover what the authors of the analyses missed, as well as what they clearly pointed out. Finally, by inserting the missing points, we are going to find its counterparts in our current system, leading to new discovers.

I could not have written this analytical paper without the following works: Stephen K. Medvic, New Directions in Campaigns and Elections, James E. Campell, The American Campaign: US Presidential Campaigns and the National Vote and Donal R. Deskins, Jr. et al., eds., Presidential Elections, 1789-2008, County, State, and National Mapping of Election Data, in which the authors did not leave us short, providing numerous quotes from writers on this comparison.

1.0. Ronald Reagan, 1980

Cary R. Covington et al., eds., in Shaping a Candidate’s Image in the Press: Ronald Reagan and the 1980 Presidential Election shows that Reagan’s success was based on shaping the content of press coverage and on televised news programs. Reagan’s strategy was called ‘Issue of the Day’, which sought to fashion his image in the news media and print news. The authors determined that the IOD strategy has been used by every single presidential candidate. This strategy provided coverage of their campaigns which sought to shape public opinion. Media outlets portray candidates in accordance with their own agendas. The IOD strategy sought to take back control in this area, and increase the formality of the candidate.

However, presidential candidates and the news media are often in open conflict. At the same time that the candidate wants a vote-maximising message board to the public, the media wants information which will be attractive to its consumers. For Ronald Reagan, the IOD strategy proved to be very beneficial.

At the outset of the IOD, there was almost no TV coverage and less than 20% of the total written paragraphs in the news media were about Reagan. Reagan tried to present himself as a moderate candidate to win over independent voters, union members and voters from ethnic minority backgrounds. Only 13.5% of the TV spots delivered negative interpretations of Ronald Reagan and nearly 70% of TV stories and 50% of paragraphs in the news media provided a positive image of him as a presidential candidate.

“As Theodore White explains: “say what you have to say clearly, say it again, say it over and over, until the theme strikes home.”  There are three key IOD strategies to help promote the desired profile of the candidate. Firstly, get the media to keep repeating the single issue of the candidate; in this way, the public will remember the candidate’s message. Secondly, minimise the possibility of unexpected mistakes finding their way into the news media. Finally, avoid overlooking the candidate’s favourite messages.

The authors also pointed out that Reagan alone was not able to fully control his image to the press public. He made many rhetorical mistakes, but this proved not to be critical as the mistakes were so frequent that the people adapted to them. The IOD strategy was applicable to the major news outlets; however, it was not effective where independent writers, who made their analyses of candidates according to their own predilections, were concerned.

Candidate’s Image in the Press: Ronald Reagan and the 1980 Presidential Election conclude that Reagan main strategy was reducing contacts with the press and avoid a verbal gaffe or controversial ad hoc remarks. The main point of this article is, that there is three-player game as the candidate, the public and the press. In which the press is going to continue to play independent and mainly role in the image of candidate toward public.

1. 1. Assessment and critique

Shaping a Candidate’s Image in the Press: Ronald Reagan and the 1980 Presidential Election has it absolutely right about the three player game of the candidate, the public and the press. It is clear that the press is the main escalator during the election process. It is mainly incumbent on the candidate how he or she will be behave or react toward the press and the public. However, this article does not take account of the fact that, at the time, the Republican party reflected views of the Reaganites such as increased defence spending, opposition to busing and abortion. Moreover, through his speeches during his campaign, he persuaded many that he was capable of occupying the position of Commander in Chief. Furthermore, we have to say, that conclusion of three-player game is not enough. We cannot measure each candidate in the same way, because all candidates are different, for example, in the ways in which they use their rhetoric. Reagan often posed key questions towards Carter and his supporters, most famously, “Are you better off now, than you were four years ago?”

We can see, that if we want to adopt the three player game model, it has its validity, but concerning the candidate, we also have to bring further measures to bear on our analysis, notably including rhetoric, leadership skills and populist tactics. Reagan used domestic issues to turn voters against current President Carter during the election, advancing ideas such as cutting taxes, returning federal programmes to the states and bringing prayer back in schools. Furthermore, he made use of the issue of war and peace, branding the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”; he also promised to the people of his country that he would restore America’s prestige and bring about the collapse of communism. In addition, Reagan lauded Republican Party, claiming that they had achieved everything for America; his message added up to revived American patriotism, an increase in national power and a great future on the horizon for the country.

2. 0. George W. Bush, 2004

Moral Issues and Voter Decision: Making in the 2004 Presidential Election by D. Sunshine Hillygus and Todd G. Shields focus on how, in 2004, Republican President George W. Bush gained the largest majority of the popular vote since his father in 1988. Not only did he make gains in terms of voters, but also in terms of support from Congress and the House of Representatives. President Bush received enormous support from the electorate owing to his socially conservative values. The President in 2004 connected his Christian faith with morality, which proved to be the central issue facing the nation at that time.

The main goal of the Bush administration was to enact bans of gay marriages in 11 states,  as well as ballots in these states, and it affirmed the moral values of voters in decision-making.  Catalysts such as marriage and abortion worked in the interest of the re-election of President Bush. At the same time, there were concerns about the economy and the war in Iraq, but these topics received scant attention in comparison with moral values, in the national media.

In this way, the final candidates of the presidential election of 2004, Bush and John Kerry distracted voters from the most important topics, such as the economy and partisanship, because they directed the conversation to moral values, with Bush targeting John Kerry’s personal limitations. In addition, we discovered that gay marriage and abortion was the prime mover of voter decisions. Authors also concluded that the number of respondents indicated that the issue of gay marriage is not important as abortion, terrorism, the economy or job security. Bush gained victory mainly by concentrating on Moral Values (22%), Terrorism (19%), Taxes (5%), where he gained more support than Kerry who focused on Iraq (15%), Education (4%), the Economy and Jobs (20%). In these topics, voters by percentage, as I mentioned, voted for their candidates.

The 2004 election was mainly about party identification, ideology and attitudes toward the Iraq war, terrorism and the economy. Once other factors were stabilised, the gay marriage and abortion issues had no impact on individual voter choice. When we are talking about part identification, it is interesting to note that Republicans (33%) who believed that the Iraq war was not “worth costs” voted for Kerry; meanwhile Democrats (48.3%) who believed that the Iraq war was “worth the costs” voted for Bush.

The conclusion offered is that moral issues did have a significant influence, and overall, the whole country was preoccupied with moral values campaign messages, more than on the Iraq war, the economy or the issue of terrorism. Mainly, voters who had anti-administration positions vote for Kerry, and voters who had pro-administration positions vote for Bush. The moral values issues of gay marriage and abortion “mattered most where the campaign mattered least.”  Value-based ideas served to reinforce and establish common ground for voters who were predisposed towards voting for him. In addition, Bush found new  support among voters who previously had a neutral position.

2. 1.  Assessment and critique

The authors of this article do not clearly illustrate why Bush won the election; they only state that events in Iraq seemed to favour Kerry, but there is no mention of the fact that the Republicans were more successful in gaining votes from Democrat core. Moreover, presidential candidate Kerry was not able to transmit a great deal of enthusiasm to the electorate, which played in Bush’s favour. Furthermore, the authors conclude that President Bush won thanks to votes which he had already secured in 2000, but we also have to note that in 2004, Bush won mainly by plurality of the popular vote. Furthermore, we also have to note that Bush is the only modern president to received a majority from the ideological-partisan conservative Republican base. Mainly because of these Republicans whose had between 59-69 years old.

There is evidence, that Bush called for amendments to the constitution, in order to define marriage as between a man and woman. However, the authors also provided further analysis of why Bush won the presidential election (but there is lack of evidence for this argument) that it was principally the terrorist attack on the USA in September 2001 and the subsequent War on Terrorism that was the engine for his victory, as a leader who had to finish what he started. In addition, Bush did not face any opposition from within his own party for the nomination, so he had the advantage of being able to commence his election campaign early. In addition, we also have to bear in mind that Bush found himself in the defensive position and ran negative advertisements with underlying messages that he underlined in appearances on many talk shows.

3. 0. Relevance of each

Theoretical power can give us a new perspective on these two articles. Firstly, campaigns attempts to reinforce messages and convert or create potential voters through the distribution of leaflets, bumper stickers and internet messages. The main tool of campaigning in these instances is both to inform and misinform voters, shifting preferences and changing minds about the true facets of issues. In both cases under survey, the American Electorate became more ideologically polarised, which played very well both for Ronald Reagan and George Bush as conservatives. Moreover, political ideology is a long-term force which can easily win popular votes, because all voters have some political values which are, to some degree, ideological.

Ronald Reagan and George Bush have some significant similarities, in that they were both well known politicians before their presidencies. Reagan was famous as the Governor of California and also for the time when he challenged Richard Nixon for the party nomination in 1968. In the case of George Bush, he was well known because of his namesake former President father.

We also have to bear in mind that the exponential increase in news coverage of elections through newspaper, television and internet channels, means that our capacity for reflective thinking is actually becoming weakened. Also, it is mainly informed citizens who are participating in popular votes.

In the Ronald Reagan era, the Issue of the Day strategy could work, but this is no longer the case. To put it simply, since 2000, there has been a huge proliferation of political information. We may compare the situation now to that of 1992, when there was only one political channel, CNN; now we have many more, including CNN Headline News, CNBC, C-SPAN, Fox News and also a vast array of of websites and newspapers. It is mainly the television programmes mentioned above that have given rise to the kind of mass-media campaigns we see now and thus, shaped the new dynamic of modern elections.

We may further note that in both campaigns under survey, there were many chaotic situations in the background. In the 1980 election, the Cold War was still raging and in the 2004 election, there was the War on Terrorism and the Iraq war. In this context, we can conclude that the campaigns were mainly concerned with asserting control over chaotic situations. In conclusion, the reason Bush won in 2004 was because he took a stand on religious issues in a time when America was in the grip of a “culture war”. In sum, the Republican party became the prevailing force in American politics.

The relevance and importance of each article is that we discover that both presidents were populists, because this was the only way how to win the nomination. Populist parties commonly use the media, all kind of news and social accounts, to put across their messages.

The media is their most important tool, and with rising populism we are seeing a strengthening of the role of the media. The media creates populists and gives them more power, precisely through making them appear more powerful than they actually are. In both campaigns, both Presidents used hard and soft populism. Soft populism may be understood as trying to pose a contrast with current political parties, or within the existing party system, which are commonly portrayed as corrupted. Subsequent hard populism means threats to the constitution. In Reagan’s case, populist rhetoric was derived from his switch from the Democratic party to the Republican party when he was seeking candidacy. In Bush’s case, populism emerged in the form of new amendments to the constitution.

4. 0. A broader view

Beginning in 1980 and continuing into later years, Reagan united the Republican Party in a leading position. He was a unique speaker and provided critique detailing how US policy had to be changed in the course of his Presidency. This election gave to the President more power in the USA, and over the political situation in world affairs. In reading this paper, we see that Reagan as well as Bush deployed rhetorical skills to persuade voters. They did not concentrate on many topics, but rather, focused on from one to three main points which they wanted to get across to the public. Moreover, both politicians operated in eras in which the USA was either on the brink of war, or actively engaged in war. Through their offensives on the opposition and the constitution, they achieved their goals. In Reagan’s case, he united overall voters across the country and established a stronger and better Republican party.

Secondly, in Bush’s case in 2004, the US was already at war and voters were struggling to work out which party they belonged to, and in which party their opinions and ideology were reflected. Here, we can confidently observe that the presidential debate of 2004, was in large part about finding a common ground of ideology, or to put it better, to affix oneself to the ideology being proffered by the two presidential candidates. We know that President Bush as incumbent president of the United States of America won in 2004. This means that he persuade voters to buy into his ideology, which was conservative, holding that the United States of America is the major superpower and now is the time to wage a war against terrorism, which was against its values. Bush tried to enhance and support more conservative values and voters accepted it. However, we can see that this does not work anymore, because societies under globalisation are not conservative, or are becoming less conservative than they used to be, and modern states are trying to be more adaptable and open to new norms of behaviour. This explains how Presidential candidate Barack Obama was able to win the presidency in 2008.

Thirdly, we may consider that Reagan was the more influential president out of the two, because after him, the Republican party remained in the leading position for the next four years, amounting to a total of 12 years in power, while in Bush’s case, the Republican Party lost power immediately after his two four year terms. President Reagan succeeded in changing the American way of thinking, because they were ready for it and influenced generations of future Presidents on issues such as defence, rhetoric, political strategy (which remained in use for several years after his presidency; we analysed it it above), and the welfare of the citizens of the United States of America.

Finally, Bush was in a different position to Reagan; we must note that during the Reagan era, America was in a defensive position. Reagan changed the policy of détente and increased America’s nuclear arsenal and military capabilities to face down the Soviet Union. During Bush’s presidency, it was more a policy of westernisation in different places around the world, with a view to reducing terrorist acts and to defeat terrorism. We must also keep in mind that at the time that Reagan left office of Reagan, America was at the peak of its power, but during the last days of Bush’s administration, America was on the brink of the world financial crisis of 2008 and mired in the controversial war in Iraq and other interventions which had only secured limited approval at best. In addition, voters were clamouring for change; they were again ready for a change in 2008 as they had been in 1980, but with the parties reversed, turning to the more progressive, no longer conservative, vision and the acceptance of new revolution in society which Barack Obama tried to deliver.


In the first article, we found out that during his presidential campaign of 1980, Ronald Reagan employed a strategy called Issue of the Day, through which he provided his single issue to the media, and through that, ensured that the public remembered what he wanted to achieve, and saw to it that only 13.5% of the TV spots provided negative views of him. We concluded that, despite the IOD strategy, the presidential candidate was not able to fully control the media because of independent writers who analysed candidates according to their own preferences. The main point of first article is that there is a three-player game involving the candidate, the public and the press, which continues to play a key role with the voting public.

In the second article, we found that President Bush sought in 2004 to connect his Christian faith with morality and the problems that the American nation faced at that time. His main goals concerned abortion and banning gay marriage, but we discovered that main indexes of the 2004 election were ideology and attitudes towards the Iraq war, terrorism and the economy. In conclusion, we agree that moral issues did have a significant influence and overall, the whole country was more receptive to moral values campaign messages than those concerning the Iraq war, the economy or terrorism. Principally, value-based ideas served to reinforce and establish common ground for voters who wanted to re-elect President Bush in 2004.

Through critique and assessment, we created a new approach towards the two analysed articles, holding that both presidents won mainly because they skilfully used the strategies of populism. Populists often use their media, social accounts and all kind of news sources to disseminate their ideas. In both cases, the Presidents used soft populism, which means, they tried to shape within the current structure of their political party and within the current political system of the time. In Reagan’s case, we saw a candidate turning from the Democratic party to the Republican party to seek nomination, and in Bush’s case, we saw a President trying to enact new amendments to the constitution.

Another key point is that Ronald Reagan and George Bush were already well-known persons by the time they sought nomination, which certainly had an impact on the success of their candidacies. We also found that political ideology is a long term force, which can easily pick up popular votes, because all voters have some political values which are, to some degree, ideological. Moreover, with increasing news about the elections, our capacity for reflective thinking is decreasing and mainly informed voters are going to go to the polls, which has a greatly impact on the outcome of presidential elections.

In the ‘A broader view’ section, we explored the significant differences between the Republican parties of 1980 and 2004. The Republican Party of 1980 tried to listen to and connect with the citizens of United States of America, thus increasing American welfare and winning the Cold War through its defence policy. This contrasts with the 2004 election, in which we saw that Bush was trying to change from defence to a more offensive US policy typified by the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. The Republican Party had been more influential and reached its highest peak during the Reagan era,  which established its leading position over more than 12 years, with Reagan’s ideas (over tax policy and foreign policy of the US) continuing to exert a significant influence on the party thirty years later.

In comparison, every election in which people wanted a change has been significant. In 1980, the citizens of America were ready for a unification of the nation. Through that, Reagan tried to tailor its policy towards more dynamism, and to enhance entrepreneurship through a conservative economic philosophy, strengthen the army and heed the voices of the people. Meanwhile, in 2004, the citizens of the USA had been searching for their ideals and tried to resolve questions for which they could not find the answers. In those years, Bush tried to use moral values for better unification, while also waging and trying to win a war against terrorism. However, after 2004, the influence of the Republican Party’s voice was on the wane, and the global financial crisis of 2008 (along with the controversial war in Iraq) paved the way for American voters to turn to Barack Obama and the Democrat party for new leadership as of 2009.

In both Presidents studied, we can observe similarities: they wanted to achieve their goals in wartime (the Cold War and the War on Terror; they tried to leave their legacy in US history and provide their party with a more influential platform). Both strongly believed in expanding free trade and strengthening the military, and supporting American allies against states hostile to America through their military capabilities.


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