The United States presidential election of 1984 was the 50th quadrennial presidential election. It was held on Tuesday, November 6, 1984. The contest was between the incumbent President Ronald Reagan from California, the Republican candidate, and former Vice President Walter Mondale from Minnesota, the Democratic candidate.
Reagan carried 49 of the 50 states, becoming one of only two candidates to do so (the other was Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election). Reagan touted a strong economic recovery from 1970s stagflation and the 1981–82 recession, as well as the widespread perception that his presidency had overseen a revival of national confidence and prestige.
Although Mondale received 40.6% of the popular vote, electoral votes are awarded on a winner-take-all basis in each state, resulting in a lopsided electoral vote count. Mondale's only electoral votes came from the District of Columbia, which had never given its electoral votes to a Republican candidate, and his home state of Minnesota, which he won by a mere 3,761 votes.
Reagan's 525 electoral votes (out of 538) is the highest total received by a presidential candidate. His showing ranks fifth by percentage of electoral votes received (97.58%) out of total available electoral votes, just shy of the 523 out of 531 (98.49%) received by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. Mondale's 13 electoral votes is also the second-fewest received by a second-place candidate, second only to Alf Landon's 8 in 1936. In the national popular vote, Reagan received 58.8% to Mondale's 40.6% and the percentage of his margin of victory ranks 7th of all presidential elections. No candidate since then has managed to equal or surpass Reagan's 1984 electoral result. Also, no post-1984 Republican candidate has managed to match Reagan's electoral performance in the Northeastern United States and in the West Coast states. At 73, Reagan was the oldest president and oldest presidential candidate to win a presidential election.
As of 2017, this is the last time Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York, Oregon and Washington voted for the Republican candidate. This election was also the second time which a Republican would earn at least 500 electoral votes (with the first occurring during Richard Nixon's landslide victory in 1972), and the most recent time when a candidate from either party would break that amount.
|Republican Party Ticket, 1984|
|Ronald Reagan||George H. W. Bush|
|for President||for Vice President|
President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
Reagan was renominated by a vote of 2,233 delegates (two delegates abstained). For the only time in American history, the vice presidential roll call was taken concurrently with the presidential roll call. Vice President George H. W. Bush was overwhelmingly renominated. This was the last time in the 20th century that the vice presidential candidate of either major party was nominated by roll call vote.
|Presidential Ballot||Vice Presidential Ballot|
|Ronald Reagan||2,233||George H. W. Bush||2,231|
|Democratic Party Ticket, 1984|
|Walter Mondale||Geraldine Ferraro|
|for President||for Vice President|
Vice President of the United States
from New York
Only three Democratic candidates won any state primaries: Mondale, Hart, and Jackson. Initially, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, after a failed bid to win the 1980 Democratic nomination for president, was considered the de facto front-runner of the 1984 primary. But, after Kennedy ultimately declined to run, former Vice-President Mondale was then 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.
South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings's wit and experience, as well as his call for a budget freeze, won him some positive attention, but his relatively conservative record alienated liberal Democrats, and he was never really noticed in a field dominated by Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and Gary Hart. Hollings dropped out two days after losing badly in New Hampshire, and endorsed Hart a week later. His disdain for his competitors was at times showcased in his comments. He notably referred to Mondale as a "lapdog," and to former astronaut Glenn as "Sky King" who was "confused in his capsule."
California Senator Alan Cranston hoped to galvanize supporters of the nuclear freeze movement that had called on the United States to halt the deployment of existing nuclear weapons and the development of new ones. Glenn and Askew hoped to capture the support of moderate and conservative Democrats. None of them possessed the fundraising ability of Mondale nor the grassroots support of Hart and Jackson, and none won any contests.
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.
Hart, from Colorado, 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 finished a surprising second in the Iowa caucuses, with 16.5% of the vote. This established him as the main rival to Mondale, effectively eliminating John Glenn, Ernest Hollings and Alan Cranston as alternatives. Hart criticized Mondale as an "old-fashioned" New Deal Democrat who symbolized "failed policies" of the past. Hart positioned himself (just as Bill Clinton would eight years later) 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.
Mondale's nomination marked the second time after former Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter in 1976 since the nomination of former Governor Adlai Stevenson II of Illinois in 1956 (and the third time since the nomination of former Congressman John W. Davis from West Virginia in 1924) that the Democratic Party nominated a private citizen for President (i.e., not serving in an official government role at the time of the nomination and election). Mondale was the last private citizen to be nominated for President by the Democratic Party until former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. Except former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia in 1976, all the other four of the private-citizen Democratic nominees mentioned (Davis, Stevenson, Carter, Mondale and Clinton) lost their general elections. (Republican private-citizen nominees include former Vice President Richard Nixon in 1968, former Governor Ronald Reagan of California in 1980, former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas in 1996 (Dole resigned from his Senate seat on July 11, 1996, a month before he was nominated for president), former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts in 2012, and businessman Donald Trump in 2016. While Dole and Romney lost their general elections, Nixon, Reagan, and Trump won theirs.)
This race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination was the closest in two generations, and, as of 2020, it was the last occasion that a major party's race for the presidential nomination went all the way to its convention.
Note: These are only those endorsements which occurred during or before the Primary Race.
This was the convention's nomination tally:
|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|
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.
Mondale chose U.S. Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro from New York as his running mate, making her the first woman nominated for that position by a major party, and the second Italian American on a major party ticket. Mondale wanted to establish a precedent with his vice presidential candidate, although Tonie Nathan of the Libertarian Party was already the first woman to receive an electoral vote in the 1972 election. Another reason for the nominee to "go for broke" instead of balancing the ticket was Reagan's lead in the polls; Mondale hoped to appeal to women, by 1980 the majority of voters, by choosing Ferraro. In a "much criticized parade of possible Veep candidates" to his home in Minnesota, Mondale considered San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein and Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins, also female; Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African American; and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, a Hispanic, as other finalists for the nomination, and chose Ferraro because he hoped that she would attract ethnic voters with her personal background. Unsuccessful nomination candidate Jackson derided Mondale's vice-presidential screening process as a "P.R. parade of personalities," but praised Mondale for his choice, having himself pledged to name a woman to the ticket in the event he was nominated.
Mondale had wanted to choose New York Governor Mario Cuomo as his running mate, but Cuomo declined and recommended Ferraro, his protégée. The nominee would likely have named Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis as his running mate had he made a "safe" choice". Others preferred Senator Lloyd Bentsen because he would appeal to more conservative Southern voters. Nomination rival Gary Hart stated before Ferraro's selection that he would accept an invitation to run with Mondale; 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.
The National Unity Party was an outgrowth of John Anderson's presidential campaign from the 1980 presidential election. Anderson hoped that the party would be able to challenge the "two old parties", which he viewed as being tied to various special interest groups and incapable of responsible fiscal reform. The intention was to organize the new party in California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, the New England states, and others where his previous candidacy had proven to have experienced the most success. The party was also eligible for $5.8 million in Federal election funds, but its qualification depended on it being on the ballot in at least ten states; however, it remained unclear if National Unity could actually obtain the funds, or if it needed to be Anderson himself.
Anderson initially was against running, hoping that another notable politico would take the party into the 1984 election, and feared that his own candidacy might result in the party being labeled a "personality cult". However no candidate came forward resulting in Anderson becoming the nominee in waiting. While Anderson had managed to find equal support from the Republicans and Democrats in the 1980 election, the grand majority of the former had since switched back, resulting in the new party being supported principally by those who normally would vote Democratic, which it was feared might make him a spoiler candidate. In light of this, in addition to difficulties in getting on the ballot in his targeted states (Utah and Kentucky were the only two, neither among those he intended to prominently campaign in), Anderson ultimately declined to run. Later he would endorse the Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale.
Anderson had hoped that the party would continue to grow and later field a candidate in 1988 (which he declared would not be him), but it floundered and ultimately dissolved.
Burns was the initial frontrunner for the nomination, but withdrew citing concerns that the party would not be able to properly finance a campaign. The remaining candidates were: Bergland; Ravenal, who had worked in the Department of Defense under Robert McNamara and Clark Clifford; and Ruwart. Bergland narrowly won the presidential nomination over Ravenal. His running mate was James A. Lewis. The ticket appeared on 39 state ballots.
Sonia Johnson ran in the 1984 presidential election, as the presidential candidate of the Citizens Party, Pennsylvania's Consumer Party and California's Peace and Freedom Party. Johnson received 72,161 votes (0.1%) finishing fifth. Her running mate for the Citizens Party was Richard Walton and for the Peace and Freedom Party Emma Wong Mar. One of her campaign managers, Mark Dunlea, later wrote a novel about a first female president, Madame President.
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.
While Ferraro's choice was popular among Democratic activists, polls immediately after the announcement showed that only 22% of women were excited about her selection, versus 18% who agreed that it was a bad idea. 60% of all voters thought that pressure from women's groups had led to Mondale's decision, versus 22% who believed that he had chosen the best available candidate. Some members of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church criticized the Catholic Ferraro for being pro-choice on abortion. Already fighting an uphill battle with voters, Ferraro also faced a slew of allegations, mid-campaign, directed toward her husband, John Zaccaro. These allegations included Zaccaro's possible past involvement in organized crime, pornography distribution, and campaign contribution violations. Ferraro responded to these allegations against her husband by releasing her family tax-returns to the media on August 21, 1984. However, the damage to the campaign was already done.
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.", a song criticizing the treatment of Vietnam War veterans (which they mistakenly thought was devoid of anti-war content), as a campaign song, without permission, until Springsteen, a lifelong Democrat, insisted that they stop.
Reagan was the oldest president to have ever served (he was by this point 73), 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. In the next debate on October 21, however, Reagan joked "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." Mondale himself laughed at the joke, and later admitted that Reagan had effectively neutralized the age issue:
If TV can tell the truth, as you say it can, you'll see that I was smiling. But I think if you come in close, you'll see some tears coming down because I knew he had gotten me there. That was really the end of my campaign that night, I think. [I told my wife] the campaign was over, and it was.
Reagan was re-elected in the November 6 election in an electoral and popular vote landslide, winning 49 states. He won a record 525 electoral votes total (of 538 possible), and received 58.8% of the popular vote; despite Ferraro's selection, 55% of women who voted did so for Reagan, and his 54 to 61% of the Catholic vote was the highest for a Republican candidate in history. Mondale's 13 electoral college votes (from his home state of Minnesota—which he won by 0.18%—and the 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 American history in the Electoral College (and his 13 electoral votes the fewest any Democrat has won since Stephen A. Douglas claimed 12 in the 1860 election, when the Democratic vote was divided), though others, including Alton B. Parker, James M. Cox, John W. Davis, and George S. McGovern, did worse in the popular vote.
Psephologists attributed the Republican victory to "Reagan Democrats", millions of Democrats who voted for Reagan, as in 1980. They characterized such Reagan Democrats as southern whites and northern blue collar workers who voted for Reagan because they credited him with the economic recovery, 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 Democratic National Committee commissioned a study after the election that came to these conclusions, but suppressed the report, afraid that it would offend its key voters.
When Reagan was asked in December 1984 what he wanted for Christmas he joked, "Well, Minnesota would have been nice". Reagan lost Minnesota in both this election and in 1980, making it the only state he failed to win in either election, and also making him the first two-term president not to carry Minnesota since Woodrow Wilson. This is the last election where the Republican candidate achieved any of the following: Win every state in the Northeastern and Pacific regions of the United States; win at least one county in every state; and win any of the following states: Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington. It was also the last election where the Republican nominee won Wisconsin until 2016, the last where the Republicans won Iowa until 2004 and the last where the Republicans won West Virginia until 2000. This was also the last election in which the winning candidate won by a double-digit margin in the percentage of the popular vote, and the last election where the winning candidate won by an eight-digit margin in total popular votes (10 million or more). Finally, despite his narrow loss in Minnesota, Reagan still managed to win in five out of its eight congressional districts (by contrast, Nixon had only carried one Massachusetts district twelve years earlier) thus making Reagan the only U.S. presidential candidate in history to win the popular vote in a majority of congressional districts in every state.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Percentage||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Electoral vote|
|Ronald Wilson Reagan (Incumbent)||Republican||California||54,455,472||58.77%||525||George Herbert Walker Bush||Texas||525|
|Walter Frederick Mondale||Democratic||Minnesota||37,577,352||40.56%||13||Geraldine Anne Ferraro||New York||13|
|David Bergland||Libertarian||California||228,111||0.25%||0||Jim Lewis||Connecticut||0|
|Lyndon LaRouche||Independent||Virginia||78,809||0.09%||0||Billy Davis||Mississippi||0|
|Sonia Johnson||Citizens||Idaho||72,161||0.08%||0||Richard Walton||Rhode Island||0|
|Bob Richards||Populist||Texas||66,324||0.07%||0||Maureen Salaman||California||0|
|Dennis L. Serrette||New Alliance||New Jersey||46,853||0.05%||0||Nancy Ross||New York||0|
|Larry Holmes||Workers World||New York||46,853||0.05%||0||Gloria La Riva||California||0|
|Gus Hall||Communist||New York||36,386||0.04%||0||Angela Davis||California||0|
|Melvin T. Mason||Socialist Workers||California||24,699||0.03%||0||Matilde Zimmermann||New York||0|
|Needed to win||270||270|
Source for the popular vote: Leip, David. "1984 Presidential Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved August 7, 2005. Source for the electoral vote: "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 7, 2005.
|States won by Reagan/Bush|
|State/district won by Mondale/Ferraro|
Margin of victory less than 1% (10 electoral votes):
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