Why Carter Lost: Dissecting the 1980 Presidential Campaign

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Sovocool, Stephen
Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976 on a platform which included reducing unemployment, curbing rampant inflation, and advancing human rights. Critical political decisions, combined with external forces, prevented him from fulfilling many of his key promises. This paper argues that Carter’s approaches to three of these forces were the primary reasons he was replaced after one term. First was an economy that got progressively worse during his tenure. Inflation reached its peak in Carter’s final year in office. He never publicly acknowledged that the economy was the most important campaign issue and failed to assemble a concise stimulus plan until late in the election. The second issue was the Iranian Hostage situation which saw 52 Americans held captive for 444 days. A disastrous covert rescue mission humiliated the country and global prestige suffered. Finally, the Energy Crisis of 1979, served as a link between the first two forces. The Iranian Revolution contributed to an oil shortage that became the catalyst for inflation and created fear throughout the nation. The President’s approach of speaking frankly to Americans, combined with his inability to solve these problems, doomed his prospects for reelection. All this was exploited by Ronald Reagan in 1980.
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