What factors contributed to the resurgence of conservatism in American politics from 1964-2005?

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There were several factors that contributed to the increase of conservatism in American government and politics between 1964-2005. One factor was the Cold War. In communist countries, the government had a great deal of influence and control. In many of these countries, the government also rejected religion. Conservatives were concerned...

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that the role of the government in the United States might increase and that less emphasis might be placed on religion.

During some of this time period, the Religious Right movement increased. People such as Reverend Billy Graham and Jerry Farwell stressed religious values. The "Moral Majority" worked to influence political policy by stressing religious and conservative values. These conservatives were very concerned that the United States was in a moral decline, and they wanted to support conservative policies that would reverse that trend.

As more people moved to the South and the West, an area known as the Sun Belt, people saw an opportunity for growth and expansion. These people wanted limited government regulation in the economy in order to foster this growth and expansion.

Some people became concerned that role of government was increasing too much. They were concerned about all of the social programs created by President Johnson’s Great Society program. They worried about the possibility of an expanded role of the government in the health insurance marketplace during the Clinton years. They were worried that some government welfare programs discouraged people from working. Some of the people felt that some of the government’s social programs weren’t working, and they got tired of paying for some of these programs. These conservatives wanted less government involvement in the economy.

As a result of the terrible economic conditions that the United States faced in the late 1970s, many Democrats voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and in 1984. Reagan’s famous “Are you better off now than you were four years ago” quote, helped sway many Democrats to support Ronald Reagan’s conservative views and policies.

There were several reasons why conservatism has grown in American politics and government since the 1960s.

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I would say that one of the critical elements in the rise of Conservatism in the modern American political landscape was what Nixon termed as "the silent majority."  On some levels, the social unrest of the 1960s went very far in alienating this group, contributing to the feelings that their voices were not being validated by the political authority and social landscape:

The Silent Majority was mostly populated by blue collar people who did not take an active part in politics. They did, in some cases, support the conservative policies of many politicians. Others were not particularly conservative politically, but resented what they saw as disrespect for American institutions.

Whether valid or not, Nixon's invocation of this group resonated and helped to articulate the condition of Conservative validation.  Adding to this was the concept of the "Reagan Democrat," who came to prominence as traditional Democratic voters broke with their party and voted for the Conservative Reagan in 1980 and 1984.  These individuals were almost a modern incarnation of the Nixonian "Silent Majority:"

..."Reagan Democrats" no longer saw Democrats as champions of their working class aspirations, but instead saw them as working primarily for the benefit of others: the very poor, feminists, the unemployed, African Americans, Latinos, and other groups. In addition, Reagan Democrats enjoyed gains during the period of economic prosperity that coincided with the Reagan administration following the "malaise" of the Carter Administration. They also supported Reagan's strong stance on national security and opposed the 1980s Democratic Party on such issues as pornography, crime, and taxes.

I think that both emerging demographics in Nixon and Regan's times, the last two strong Republican presidents, might help to explain the resurgence of Conservatism.

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I would argue that the resurgence of conservatism has come as a backlash against the major changes that have been happening in the US since the 1960s.

There are many ways in which the US has changed in this time.  Some examples are:

  • Social changes.  Minorities of all sorts have become more vocal in demanding rights and have been given more rights by the government.  Women work more outside the home than they did in 1964.  There are more immigrants and America is generally becoming less white.  All of these are serious changes that have caused a backlash.
  • The Vietnam War.  This conflict exposed differences among Americans in terms of their attitudes towards the military and towards traditional ideas of patriotism.  The protests and upheaval associated with the war also caused a backlash among many.
  • Government economic policies.  Government has grown a great deal during this time -- from LBJ's Great Society to G.W. Bush's Medicare drug benefit to "Obamacare."  This has caused a conservative backlash against "big government."

So, America has changed in many important ways since 1964.  These changes have caused a backlash among many who are not comfortable with the changes.  This is why conservatism has come to be such a major force in our politics today.

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