Desperate Democrats in the Reagan Revolution: A Party Determined to Win the White House

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Name: Matthew Akins
Majors: Political Science, History
Advisors: Dr. Bas van Doorn, Dr. Jordan Biro-Walters

Bill Clinton’s 1992 election to the presidency as a Democrat ended a series of defeats for that party on the presidential level. Clinton may have won the White House, but he did not do it alone. In the decade before his victory, the “New Democrats” worked to moderate the Democratic Party from within, responding to the presidential losses of 1980, 1984, and 1988. Scholars have explored this topic from many angles, but none have explored it from the perspective of these “New Democrats” in a way that traces their story from Al From and Gillis Long to the DLC and finally to Clinton with an overarching focus on loss. This independent study employs a discourse analysis of various speeches and policy manifestos in the 1980s to study how this group reacted to Democratic presidential losses. The study ultimately concludes that “New Democrats” pressured the party to moderate key policy positions as a direct result of election losses on the presidential level. In the wake of growing calls to reform a party that is still largely dominated by “New Democrats”, this project is more relevant than ever.

Posted in Comments Enabled, Independent Study, Symposium 2022 on April 26, 2022.

6 responses to “Desperate Democrats in the Reagan Revolution: A Party Determined to Win the White House”

  1. Bas van Doorn says:

    Great work, Matthew! It was a pleasure working with you on this project this year. Stay in touch!

  2. Angie Bos says:

    It’s so great to see how this all came together, Matthew! I loved seeing how your work in JR IS fed into a really interesting and important SR IS project. This is such an important topic – thank you for sharing! Best, Prof. Bos

  3. Prof. Jordan Biro Walters says:

    I enjoyed viewing a visual and virtual representation of your written IS research project. I am equally excited to see what you accomplish next in graduate school. Please come back to COW and visit.

  4. Alvaro Corral says:

    Great work, Matthew! It’s been great to see this project develop over time–fantastic!

  5. Emily Davis '20 says:

    Very insightful Matt, would these lessons learned be applicable to the upcoming midterms this fall? If so, what would you advise the democratic party to do?

  6. Alana Rivas-Scott says:

    Excellent presentation Matthew! Your passion for this topic is evident and inspiring. I would very much like to learn more about how the Democratic Party has evolved over the years and where it might go from here. Again, great work, and best of luck in all your future endeavors!

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