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John Anderson Candidate Analysis - Nick Troiano

John Anderson Candidate Analysis - Nick Troiano

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Published by: Nick Troiano on Nov 23, 2011
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 Nick TroianoProfessor Stephen WaynePresidential Electoral Politics November 23, 2011
Indy Andy: John Anderson and the Election of 1980
The United States was confronting multiple, simultaneous crises in 1980. Athome, Americans faced eight percent unemployment and an energy shortage. Abroad, theIranian hostage situation marked the beginning of hostilities between radical Islam andthe West. Only 11 percent of Americans had a positive view of the country (Wilson,413). The mood of the nation was somber, and voters were looking for change. In the presidential election, according to pollster Bob Teeter, voters desired a leader who couldoffer: “(1) something different, uniquely attractive; (2) a return to traditional Americanvalues; and (3) proven capability” (Mason, 71). John B. Anderson, a ten-termCongressman from Illinois, sought to fill this role as a dark horse presidential candidate,first in the Republican primary and later in the general election as an independent.Ultimately, the campaign’s strategy proved ineffective in allowing Anderson to overcomethe inherent obstacles he faced as a candidate running outside of both major parties.Anderson was an atypical Republican. “The most formative period of my whole20 years in Congress in fleshing out my thoughts and views on what issues wereimportant was the civil rights revolution,” Anderson said. It was on this issue that he broke with conservative Republicans to support legislation like the Fair Housing Act –  building a national profile in the process. At one point, Anderson also opposed fundingmilitary operations in Vietnam, and he took a more expansive view of the role of government in helping to improve the ailing economy. A desire to voice these divergentopinions was part of what motivated him to enter the 1980 Republican primary. “I just
didn’t feel that there was another candidate…that entertained the progressive view that Ifelt should be the view of the party of Abraham Lincoln,” he said (Anderson).Anderson became the eighth of eleven total candidates to enter the Republicanrace. Initial polling in the fall of 1979 found him last in both support and namerecognition (Mason, 29). A key challenge for the campaign, which carried through to thegeneral election, was getting the media and voters to treat Anderson seriously. Mark Bisnow, Anderson’s press secretary and aide, writes, “nobody would be particularlyinterested in what John Anderson has to say until they first thought he had a chance”(Bisnow, 57). Thus, the campaign embraced the idea of Anderson as an “anti-candidate”who was not afraid to tell the truth and call for tough choices to be made – not only because the profile was a good fit for Anderson, but also because it offered a way to sethim apart from the other candidates and attract media attention.Although Anderson was widely unknown among voters and unpopular among theRepublican establishment, he saw an opportunity for victory within a recently reformednominating system that relied on state-based primary elections, in which many statesallowed independents and Democrats to participate. To this end, the campaign decided ona four-state primary strategy, in which Anderson would skip Iowa and concentrate hiscampaign in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois and Wisconsin to capitalize oncrossover voters. The campaign believed Anderson would be able to reach the top tier inMassachusetts and be able to secure his first win in Wisconsin. To overcome inevitableearly defeats, the team aimed to keep expectations low and develop a core constituencyof supporters, whom they identified as a professional class of “high-income, collegeeducated, cause oriented” voters (Mason, 71). “They were what I call the extreme middle.They were moderate Republicans, members of Common Cause, and donors to the ACLU
and People for the American Way,” said Roger Craver, who helped design Anderson’sdirect mail fundraising campaign (Craver).The central theme of the campaign, often referred to as “the Andersondifference,” was reinforced in early television ads, which concluded with Andersonsaying, “The time has come to stop telling the American people only what they want tohear, and start talking frankly about the sacrifices we must all make.” In another ad,Anderson said, “I want to buy your vote. Not with money, but with some different ideasthat challenge you to think” (Mason, 149). One of those ideas was a fifty-cent gasolinetax that would discourage energy consumption and redistribute the revenue to lower social security payroll taxes. This proposal was the most acclaimed of his campaign for how bold and innovative it was. It provided the campaign with needed attention by givingthe media something to report on and voters something to identify Anderson with.In an early 1980 debate, Anderson finally broke through the crowded group of candidates. In an extemporaneous closing speech to a national audience, Anderson said:“I’m afraid that there’s too much old politics being practiced, even amongRepublicans today…I think the country is looking for something different. Everyone of them has ridiculed my plan to go to the American people and tax them fiftycents a gallon for gasoline…yet I haven’t heard other than in vague generalitieswhat they would do to solve the energy problem.”Author Jim Mason called the speech “the most important three minutes of Anderson’s political career” (Mason, 124). One reporter described Anderson as “a plainspoken mansurrounded by double-talking candidates.” A
 New York Times
editorial (“Why Not theBest?”) criticized those who outright dismissed Anderson’s candidacy and stated:“[Anderson] deserves at least the chance to show more” (125).

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