Provide a definition of conservatism as popularly understood during the presidential terms of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were three major aspects to conservatism during this time, though it is important to realize that definitions of conservatism changed in some ways between Reagan's first election in 1980 and the end of Bush's second term in 2009.  The three major aspects were:

  • Smaller government.  Conservatives were particularly unhappy with government spending on the welfare state and with what they saw as excessive regulation. 
  • Traditional morality.  Conservatives were opposed to things like abortion and to same-sex marriage.  They wanted to uphold more traditional understandings of values and were more open to accepting government action to promote religious viewpoints.
  • Strong foreign policy.  In Reagan's time, this meant being strongly anti-communist.  Later, it came to mean a willingness to use military force in an extensive way to combat perceived threats from the Muslim world.