When Ronald Reagan "swept" into the White House, he appeared to have huge "coattails". But did he?
As a result of the 1980 census, 32 "new" Congressional seats were created. At least 20 of the seats were from states with GOP-controlled statehouses and/or legislatures. Gerrymandering involves the party in control of the state legislature redrawing the districts to give maximum help to its own party members in winning House seats--and to help defeat incumbents of the other party. While both parties have engaged in this (the Democrats far less frequently, even then, than the GOP) prior to 1964, since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1964 (Wesberry vs. Sanders) making much gerrymandering definitely illegal, virtually all gerrymandering has been done by GOP-controlled state legislatures.1
Bottom line: Ronald Reagan "won" 32 new Congressional seats in 1980. "State legislatures . . .[were]particularly vulnerable. . . cumbersome state constitutions . . .[made it] time-consuming for states to adjust to changing circumstances . . . [S]tate legislatures are often notoriously malaportioned: in 1962 when the Supreme Court issued the first of its one-man, one vote rulings (Baker vs. Carr), which now are forcing the states to reapportion, 27 states had not redistricted their legislatures in 25 years, and eight states had not redistricted in more than 50 years. (Palumbo 167)."
This phenomenon may also explain Eisenhower's coattails in the House in 1952, and Kennedy's lack of them in 1960.
The charge, therefore, that some southern Democrats are actually only Republicans running as Democrats in local rases may have some truth-but, if so, this only strengthens the argument that the Republican Party has to cheat to win the White House.
Much information suggests that Ronald Reagan was a creation of media "hype"--that is, that he "bought" the sympathy of the controllers of the mass information media (textbook publishers, professors, even newspaper and magazine publishers, and television and radio network news broadcasters) with tax cuts and promises of more bax cuts. He was described by many in the media as a "Teflon" Presidents but his teflon was largely the creation of a sympathetic corporate press/media structure.2.
Polls taken in the Fall of 1983 showed Walter Mondale even with Reagan (Chafe 483). Mondale dropped on occasion to trail Reagan, but as late as August of 1984 Mondale was in a dead heat with Reagan in the polls. 3. In September and October of 1984, after the debates, Mondale again pulled close to Reagan. In fact, the election was in doubt right up to the last minute, if one rationally and objectively analyzed the polls with historical hindsight. 4. Yet, time after time, the mass broadcast media "called" the election in favor of the "teflon" president. There was no point bothering to vote, was the message. It's over. And so it was.5.
1.Dennis Palumbo. American Politics. New York: Appleton, 1973. 193-7. In the same section, he also notes:"Especially hard-hit have been controversial women representatives."
2.William H. Chafe. The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. 470-84.
3. Patrick, John J. and Howard D. Mehlinger. American Political Behavior. Lexington, MA: Ginn, 1980. 221, 229: Statistics here reveal that between 21 and 24% of American voters were "late deciders" in the 1960 and 1964 elections, not finally making up their minds as to how they'd vote in the upcoming election until election night itself.
4. James Q. Wilson. American Government. Washington DC: Heath, 1989. 184, 189: In 1980, 20% of voters were such "late deciders". It's interesting to note in this regard that Reagan's lead at its widest over Mondale/Ferraro was never more than 17%, 3 to 6 percentage points below this "late decider" vote, and certainly well below an amount sufficient to give the media grounds for "calling" the election as it did. Indeed, in 1987, the Democratic National Committee won a lawsuit challenging the media's "projection" of Reagan's victory in 1984; often, the media "called" states before the polls had closed that year, strongly impacting on the voting results in Central, Mountain and Pacific time states.
5. Chafe, 470-84.
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