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The Failing Popularity of Jimmy Carter - Essay Example

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The Failing Popularity of Jimmy Carter

Divisions in the Democratic Party arose over the direction of domestic policy and split party unity. A divisive Democratic primary between Carter and challenger Ted Kennedy (Dem, MA.) left the campaign in disarray. According to Hamilton Jordan, Carter's chief political advisor, the Democratic outlook was "...not enhanced or strengthened by the contest, but damaged severely" (qtd. in Biven). Yet, against this backdrop of failure and frustration, even darker clouds had gathered. By July 1980, Carter's approval rating had dropped to 21%, lower than Richard Nixon's at the time of his resignation. This dramatic drop was precipitated by two key events. America's runaway inflation and the Iran hostage ordeal had taken a heavy toll on America's confidence in the Carter presidency.
There is an old political saying that says Americans vote with their pocketbooks. This was certainly true in the 1980 reelection bid of Jimmy Carter. Rampant inflation had severely reduced wage earners purchasing power throughout the Carter years. Carter opposed Gerald Ford in the presidential race of 1976 during one of our history's greatest economic slumps. During the campaign Carter had criticized Ford for his inability to deal with inflation and unemployment. When Carter was inaugurated in 1977, the country was beginning to show some signs of improvement. However, after four years of Carter's administration inflation had risen from 4.8% in 1976 to 12% at the time of the 1980 election (Huckshorn). Inflation, the public's measure of the economy, was rooted in Carter's inability to deal with major economic issues.
Carter, had a long-term vision for energy policy, but was ineffective at dealing with America's immediate need for oil during his short term as President. OPEC's tight control of the oil market had boosted prices and in the period from 1978 to1979 oil prices nearly doubled (Williams). Not coincidentally the national deficit was also rising at record rates. America's debt resulted in further erosion of the dollar on the international market. These economic forces conspired to send inflation to a lofty 20% in January and February of 1980 (Biven). Though consumers probably suffered less than was conventionally believed, the overriding shadow of the double-digit inflation rate in the daily papers dashed any hope Carter had for reelection.
While faced with growing domestic discontent, Carter was presented with what became the most overpowering and difficult problem of his presidency, the Iranian hostage crises. In November 1979, militant Iranian students took control of the American Embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats and others hostage while demanding the return of the previously overthrown Shah .The hostages were released in January 1981, after being held for 444 days, but the damage to Carter had already been done. The fate of the hostages and the ever-present news broadcasts magnified the inability of the Carter administration's incompetence in handling the crisis. A failed rescue attempt and general frustration added to the public's eroding approval of the President's performance. Carter's popularity continued downward as the election was held and Carter was handed defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan.
Carter's administration was working behind the scenes to free the hostages, ...Show more


Jimmy Carter was inaugurated on January 20, 1977 and became America's 39th president. Carter was elected largely due to a backlash vote caused by a widespread rejection of perceived corruption in the Republican Party. Carter, swept into office as a populist candidate, was plagued by numerous difficulties both at home and abroad…
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