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United States presidential election, 1984

The United States presidential election of 1984 was a contest between the incumbent President Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate, and former Vice President Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate. Reagan was helped by a strong economic recovery from the deep recession of 1981–1982. The Republicans successfully painted Mondale as a "big government" spender who wanted to raise taxes. Reagan carried 49 of the 50 states, becoming only the second presidential candidate to do so after Richard Nixon's victory in the 1972 presidential election. Mondale's only electoral votes came from his home state of Minnesota—which he won by fewer than 3,800 votes—and the District of Columbia. Reagan's 525 electoral votes (out of 538) is the highest total ever received by a presidential candidate. In the national popular vote, Reagan received 58.8% to Mondale's 40.6%.

Republican Party nomination



Ronald Reagan—the incumbent president—was the assured nominee for the Republican Party. He was renominated by a vote of 2,233 (two delegates abstained).

Primaries popular vote:

  • Ronald Reagan (inc.): 6,484,987 (98.78%)
  • Unpledged delegates: 55,458 (0.85%)
  • Harold Stassen: 12,749 (0.19%)

For the only time in American history, the vice presidential roll call was taken concurrently with the presidential roll call. Results:

This was the last time in the 20th century that the Vice Presidential candidate of either major party was nominated by roll call vote.

Democratic Party nomination


The field was crowded in the race for the Democratic nomination:


Only three Democratic candidates won any state primaries: Mondale, Hart, and Jackson.

Former Vice President Mondale was initially viewed as the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Mondale had the largest number of party leaders supporting him, and he had raised more money than any other candidate. However, both Jackson and Hart emerged as surprising, and troublesome, opponents.

Jackson was the second African-American (after Shirley Chisholm) to mount a nationwide campaign for the presidency, and he was the first African-American candidate to be a serious contender. He got 3.5 million votes during the primaries, third behind Hart and Mondale. He won the primaries in Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana, and split Mississippi, where there were two separate contests for Democratic delegates. Through the primaries, Jackson helped confirm the black electorate's importance to the Democratic Party in the South at the time. During the campaign, however, Jackson made an off-the-cuff reference to Jews as "Hymies" and New York City as "Hymietown", for which he later apologized. Nonetheless, the remark was widely publicized, and derailed his campaign for the nomination. Jackson ended up winning 21% of the national primary vote but received only 8% of the delegates to the national convention, and he initially charged that his campaign was hurt by the same party rules that allowed Mondale to win. He also poured scorn on Mondale, saying that Hubert Humphrey was the "last significant politician out of the St. Paul-Minneapolis" area.

Colorado Senator Hart was a more serious threat to Mondale, and after winning several early primaries it looked as if he might take the nomination away from Mondale. Hart criticized Mondale as an "old-fashioned" New Deal Democrat who symbolized "failed policies" of the past. Hart positioned himself as a younger, fresher, and more moderate Democrat who could appeal to younger voters. He emerged as a formidable candidate, winning the key New Hampshire, Ohio, and California primaries as well as several others, especially in the West. However, Hart could not overcome Mondale's financial and organizational advantages, especially among labor union leaders in the Midwest and industrial Northeast.

Hart was also badly hurt in a televised debate with Mondale during the primaries, when the former vice president used a popular television commercial slogan to ridicule Hart's vague "New Ideas" platform. Turning to Hart on camera, Mondale told Hart that whenever he heard Hart talk about his "New Ideas", he was reminded of the Wendy's fast-food slogan "Where's the beef?". The remark drew loud laughter and applause from the viewing audience and caught Hart off-guard. Hart never fully recovered from Mondale's charge that his "New Ideas" were shallow and lacking in specifics.

At a roundtable debate between the three remaining Democratic candidates moderated by Phil Donahue, Mondale and Hart got in such a heated argument over the issue of U.S. policy in Central America that Jackson had to tap his water glass on the table to help get them to stop.

Mondale gradually pulled away from Hart in the delegate count, but, as Time reported in late May, "Mondale ... has a wide lead in total delegates (1,564 to 941) ... because of his victories in the big industrial states, his support from the Democratic Establishment and the arcane provisions of delegate-selection rules that his vanguard helped draft two years ago. After the final primary in California, on June 5, which Hart won, Mondale was about 40 delegates short of the total he needed for the nomination. However, at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco on July 16, Mondale received the overwhelming support of the unelected superdelegates from the party establishment to win the nomination.

This race for the nomination was the closest in two generations, and it has been the most recent occasion that a major party presidential nomination has gone all the way to the convention. During the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries and after (until Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign), it was speculated by many that the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee might be decided by a brokered convention. In the end, there was no such happening.

After Mondale's loss to Reagan in the general election in November 1984, Hart quickly emerged as the frontrunner for the Democratic Party's 1988 presidential nomination. He maintained that lead until a sex scandal derailed his candidacy in 1987.


Notable endorsements during the primaries included:

Walter Mondale

Gary Hart

Jesse Jackson

John Glenn

Reubin Askew


These were the convention's nomination tally:

The Balloting
Presidential Ballot Vice Presidential Ballot
Walter F. Mondale 2,191 Geraldine A. Ferraro 3,920
Gary W. Hart 1,200.5 Shirley Chisholm 3
Jesse L. Jackson 465.5
Thomas F. Eagleton 18
George S. McGovern 4
John H. Glenn 2
Joe Biden 1
Lane Kirkland 1

When he made his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, Mondale said: "Let's tell the truth. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did. Although Mondale intended to expose Reagan as hypocritical and position himself as the "honest" candidate, the choice of taxes as a discussion point likely damaged his electoral chances.

Vice-Presidential nominee

Mondale chose U.S. Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York as his running mate and she was confirmed by acclamation, making her the first woman nominated for that position by a major party.

Aides later said that Mondale was determined to establish a precedent with his vice presidential candidate, considering San Francisco Mayor (Later U.S. Senator) Dianne Feinstein and Governor of Kentucky Martha Layne Collins, who were also female; Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African American; and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, a Hispanic, as other finalists for the nomination. Unsuccessful nomination candidate Jackson derided Mondale's vice-presidential screening process as a "P.R. parade of personalities", however he praised Mondale for his choice.

Others however preferred Senator Lloyd Bentsen because he would appeal to more conservative Southern voters. Nomination rival Gary Hart had also been lobbying for the vice-presidential spot on the ticket once it became apparent that Mondale had clinched the majority of delegates; Hart's supporters claimed he would do better than Mondale against President Reagan, an argument undercut by a June 1984 Gallup poll that showed both men nine points behind the president.

Ferraro, as Catholic, came under fire from some members of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church for being pro-choice on abortion. Further controversy erupted over statements regarding the release of her husband's tax returns.

Other parties

David Bergland was the nominee of the Libertarian Party. His running mate was James A. Lewis. The Bergland-Lewis ticket appeared on 39 state ballots.

The Communist Party USA ran Gus Hall and Angela Davis.

General election


Mondale ran a liberal campaign, supporting a nuclear freeze and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). He spoke against what he considered to be unfairness in Reagan's economic policies and the need to reduce federal budget deficits.

At a campaign stop in Hammonton, New Jersey, Reagan said, "America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in songs of a man so many young Americans admire, New Jersey's Bruce Springsteen." The Reagan campaign briefly used "Born in the U.S.A.", an anti-Vietnam War song (which they mistakenly thought was a patriotic song), as a campaign song, without permission, until Springsteen, a lifelong Democrat, insisted that they stop.

The Reagan campaign was very skilled at producing effective television advertising. Two of the more memorable ads it produced were commonly known as "Bear in the woods" and "Morning in America".

By 1984, Reagan was the oldest president to have ever served, and there were many questions about his capacity to endure the grueling demands of the presidency, particularly after Reagan had a poor showing in his first debate with Mondale on October 7. He referred to having started going to church "here in Washington" (although the debate was in Louisville, Kentucky), referred to military uniforms as "wardrobe," and admitted to being "confused," among other mistakes. However, in the next debate on October 21, Reagan effectively neutralized the issue by quipping, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."


Reagan was re-elected following the November 6 election in an electoral and popular vote landslide, winning 49 states. Reagan won a record 525 electoral votes total (of 538 possible), and received nearly 60 percent of the popular vote. Mondale's 13 electoral college votes (in Minnesota and District of Columbia) marked the lowest total of any major Presidential candidate since Alf Landon's 1936 loss to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mondale's defeat was also the worst for any Democratic Party candidate in U.S. history in the Electoral College, though others, including George McGovern, John W. Davis, and James M. Cox, did worse in the popular vote.

Psephologists pointed to "Reagan Democrats" — millions of Democrats who voted for Reagan. They characterized such Reagan Democrats as southern whites and northern blue collar workers who voted for Reagan because they credited him with the economic boom, saw Reagan as strong on national security issues, and perceived the Democrats as supporting the poor and minorities at the expense of the middle class.

The 1984 election was the last time that a Republican presidential candidate won the states of Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin as of the 2004 election.

Close states

Margin of victory less than 10%

  1. Minnesota, 0.18%
  2. Massachusetts, 2.79%
  3. Rhode Island, 3.65%
  4. Maryland, 5.49%
  5. Pennsylvania, 7.35%
  6. Iowa, 7.39%
  7. New York, 8.01%
  8. Wisconsin, 9.18%


Source for the popular vote: Source for the electoral vote:

See also



  • (1986). Campaign for President: The Managers Look at '84.
  • Leuchtenburg, William E. (1986). The 1984 Election in Historical Perspective.
  • Morris, Lorenzo (1990). The Social and Political Implications of the 1984 Jesse Jackson Presidential Campaign.
  • E. Sandoz and C. V. Crabb, Jr. (eds.), Election 84: Landslide Without a Mandate? (1986) New American Library
  • Stempel, Guido H., III; John W. Windhauser (1991). The Media in the 1984 and 1988 Presidential Campaigns. Greenwood Press.

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