How a coast-to-coast victory was forged
It was not exactly a total shutout. Walter Mondale did exhibit pockets of strength in the older, industrial cities, and he won among blacks, Jews and people earning less than $10,000 a year. But the true importance of the 1984 election was not simply Ronald Reagan's overwhelming electoral total. It was the profound demographic shifts that helped account for his landslide. An analysis of the President's virtually unprecedented avalanche of support shows that he swept not only every region of the country but every age group and almost every demographic voting bloc. Reagan captured most new voters as well as those for whom voting Democratic had been a lifelong tradition. He won most cities and towns, almost every suburb, and swamped his opponent in rural areas. Indeed, he won where few Republicans have ever won before.
The Northeast and industrial Midwest were supposed to form the geographic base for the liberal Democratic ticket. But exit polls there signaled a pattern that would be repeated across the country: Mondale could not win the voting groups he had to carry to defeat Reagan.
In New Jersey, blue-collar voters went for Reagan 57% to 43%, according to NBC'S exit polls. In Pennsylvania, Reagan beat Mondale among voters ages 18 to 24 by 55% to 45%. Reagan won New York's Italian vote by a stunning 63% to 37%, despite the presence of an Italian American from New York, Geraldine Ferraro, on the Democratic ticket. Even 28% of New York's self-described liberals voted for Reagan.
In the Midwest, hit hardest by the 1981-82 recession, many traditional Democrats went for Reagan, convinced that his programs deserved credit for the economic recovery. "I've always voted Democratic, but this time I'm a Reagan man," said Ron Firmite, a butcher from Sawyer, Mich. "Everybody in my family is working now, and so is everybody I know who wants to work. That's a big change from a few years ago." In Illinois, the warring Democratic factions of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and Cook County Party Boss Edward Vrdolyak reached a fragile truce but were still unable to deliver the way the late Mayor Richard Daley once did.
In the South, Mondale was counting on a huge black vote to make Dixie Democratic once again. Inspired in large part by Jesse Jackson's oratory ("Hands that picked cotton can now pick Presidents"), new black voters did register Democratic in record numbers. But the Republicans had added as many other new voters to their rolls and, in some states, more. In Florida, the Republicans outregistered the Democrats 450,000 to 225,000.
The real story of the South was white flight from the Democratic Party. Southern whites voted for Reagan by 71% to 29%. Many Southerners continued to vote Democratic for state and local candidates, but they saw Mondale as a buttoned-up Northerner who had sold out to Big Labor. Lamented Georgia Democratic State Chairman Bert Lance: "The Democrats have been on the wrong side of all the issues."