Why did conservatives gain political power in the 1970s?

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While support for conservative positions among the American electorate certainly increased as a result of the social turbulence associated with the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protests, especially the riot that occurred at the Democratic National Convention in August 1968, it is a little misleading to suggest that conservatives gained in power during the decade of the 1970s.  Richard Nixon's election in 1968 and his re-election four years later represented a renunciation among many Americans of the tactics employed by the political left, including riots and demonstrations, but that conservative resurgence represented only the early part of the decade of the 1970s. Public anger at the Nixon Administration's handling of the war in Vietnam combined with revelations of "dirty tricks" by the White House intended to undermine Nixon's political opponents, an effort that culminated in the Watergate scandal in the summer of 1972 that ended with Nixon's resignation, caused a shift back towards the left symbolized by the election of Jimmy Carter, a liberal governor from Georgia. Carter's election was a direct backlash by much of the public at the disgraced presidency of Nixon and the appearance of ineptitude on the part of Nixon's successor in the Oval Office, Gerald Ford. That the liberal Carter was elected in 1976 pretty much casts doubt on the assumption of a conservative revival that characterized the 1970s. The real conservative resurgence would result from Carter's hapless presidency and the candidacy of Republican Ronald Reagan, who defeated Carter in the latter's efforts at being reelected in 1981. 

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There are a number of reasons why conservatives came to power during this decade.  They include:

  • The protests against the Vietnam War
  • The Civil Rights Movement and the race riots of the later 1960s.
  • The Great Society
  • The counterculture

What all of these things did was to create a backlash against the changes that were going on in American culture.  All of the things mentioned above made traditional-minded Americans feel that American society was changing too drastically.  They felt that society was moving too far toward liberal ways.  They felt that things like respect for authority and individual willingness to work hard were disappearing.  This led to a backlash in which conservativism came to dominate the American political scene.

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