1984 Reagan VS. Mondale



Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Train," Reagan, 1984

MALE NARRATOR: On a Friday just a few weeks ago, the barbershop closed three hours early. The mill shut its doors at noon and all across the state people were taking time out for something special: a train carrying the 40th president of the United States and bringing with it a new spirit of accomplishment and optimism and pride. Because of the past three and a half years, things have been looking up in the country. Today, the economy is up. Taxes and inflation are down. Americans are working again, and so is America. So while some folks might have come so they could tell their grandchildren they saw President Reagan, most of them just stopped by to say thanks. President Reagan. Leadership that's working.

[TEXT: PRESIDENT REAGAN: Leadership That's Working]


"Train," Reagan-Bush '84, 1984

Video courtesy of Ronald and Nancy Reagan/Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1984/train (accessed July 25, 2024).


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1984 Reagan Mondale Results

In 1984, the economy was in an upswing. Oil prices were low, interest rates were high, and the lurking problem of the mounting federal deficit caused little public concern. The popular President Reagan was earning the label "the Teflon president" for his ability to escape unscathed from setbacks. In October 1983, 241 marines were killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut. The debacle was eclipsed days later by a marine invasion of Grenada, purportedly to save a small group of medical students from the island’s new leftist government. Public confidence in the military was restored.

The unenviable task of running against Reagan fell to former Vice President Walter Mondale. Mondale made two bold choices in his campaign, both of which backfired. First, he selected a woman, New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro, as his running mate. Media scrutiny of her husband’s finances put Ferraro on the defensive. Second, Mondale announced in his acceptance speech that he would raise taxes to fight the deficit. He missed the opportunity to point out that a day earlier Reagan had quietly signed a bill raising taxes by $50 billion. Reagan succeeded in tagging Mondale as a typical free-spending Democrat, and won the most lopsided electoral victory since 1936.

Ronald Reagan for president
George Bush for vice president

"America Is Back"

With lush images of Americans buying houses, raising flags, washing cars, going to work, and playing in their yards, all set to swelling music in a montage style familiar from soft-drink and beer commercials, Ronald Reagan ads presented an upbeat image of "Morning in America." Reagan consultant Philip Dusenbery has said that the ads were designed to evoke emotion rather than thought or understanding: "That’s the most powerful part of advertising. It stays with people longer and better." The Reagan campaign produced several ads to defuse Mondale’s main attacks. The most memorable spot,"Bear," responded to charges that Reagan had unnecessarily escalated military spending. In the ad a bear, representing the Soviet threat, prowls the woods as the narrator asks, "Isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear—if there is a bear?" Another ad rebutted Mondale’s charges that "Reaganomics" was unfair to the middle class by defining "Mondalenomics" as higher taxes. In addition, Reagan’s ads consistently tied Mondale to the Carter administration, asking, "Now that our country is turning around, why would we ever turn back?"

Walter Mondale for president
Geraldine Ferraro for vice president

"Fighting for Your Future"

Most of Walter Mondale’s ads featured ominous music reminiscent of the soundtrack of the popular horror movie Halloween. To evoke the dark side of "Morning in America," these conceptual ads used eerie scenes such as a father digging a hole for a bomb shelter in his backyard to protect his family in case of nuclear war. Mondale’s ads attacked Reagan on three issues: arms control, the deficit, and the widening gulf between the rich and the middle class. The ads asked the public to look beyond the apparent prosperity of the nation and see trouble on the horizon, but their claims did not ring true for the majority of Americans. A Mondale ad citing Reagan’s foreign-policy failures, with images of the caskets of marines killed in Beirut, was ineffective because Reagan was not considered responsible for that tragedy. Ads that were meant to show Reagan as unfair to the middle class were negated by the irresistible imagery of the upbeat Republican spots. Attacking Reagan simply proved fruitless, and Mondale’s commercials never presented a strong vision of an alternative to the Reagan presidency.

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