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Title: American populist conservatism, 1977-88
Author: Freedman, R. S.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2007
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Populist conservatism brought new constituencies, issues and campaigning techniques to the American right, which helped it to become a dominant political force. However, the very nature of populist conservatism meant that it was less effective as a force for governing in the 1980s. Populist conservatives capitalised on the unease felt by certain groups, such as evangelical Christians, about ‘social issues’ such as abortion, but also foreign and economic policy. The populist conservative movement, including the ‘New Right’ political activists and the ‘religious right,’ tapped the discontent of working and lower middle class whites in particular in an attempt to build a new conservative majority. However, these constituencies sat uneasily with libertarian and ‘big business’ elements within the Republican Party. Interviews with populist conservative leaders and officials in the Carter and Reagan administrations have illuminated the often rather dry official records. That said, new collections in the Carter Library reveal the extent to which his administration ignored social conservatives and pushed a bold agenda in areas such as women’s and gay rights. Recently opened documents in the Reagan Library demonstrate that populist conservative leaders often worked with the administration whilst publicly urging it to take a more conservative stance. I was also fortunate to be granted access to some closed collections, such as those of Reagan’s pre-presidential office, which catalogue his strained relations with his erstwhile populist conservative allies. Finally, I have made use of the huge amount of political literature produced by populist conservatives. Of course, it has not been possible to conduct an exhaustive survey of populist conservative activity, due to both space constraints and the availability of evidence. A future study would cover issues such as busing, the campaign for a balanced budget amendment and the ‘Sagebrush Rebellion’.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available