AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to thank Raphe Sonenshein, Ronald King, and Patricia Strach for reading early versions of the manuscript and offering invaluable suggestions for improvement.
Nixon's New Deal: Welfare Reform for the Silent Majority
Article first published online: 19 JUL 2012
© 2012 Center for the Study of the Presidency
Presidential Studies Quarterly
Volume 42, Issue 3, pages 455–481, September 2012
How to Cite
SPITZER, S. J. (2012), Nixon's New Deal: Welfare Reform for the Silent Majority. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 42: 455–481. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-5705.2012.03989.x
- Issue published online: 19 JUL 2012
- Article first published online: 19 JUL 2012
Utilizing recently opened politically sensitive materials at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, this article shows how welfare reform became increasingly important to the Nixon administration's political ambitions for a new conservative majority, consisting of southern white conservatives and northern working- and middle-class white voters. Welfare reform rose to the top of the president's domestic policy agenda for a number of reasons, but the president selected the Family Assistance Plan (FAP) over more conservative alternatives in keeping with his political aims: the FAP would redistribute federal welfare to the white working poor in northern metropolitan areas, while simultaneously increasing federal welfare spending in southern states. As the 1970 midterm elections approached, however, the predominant political focus for the FAP became the effort to appeal to blue-collar, northern white-ethnic voters. In the aftermath of the disappointing results from those elections, President Nixon and his political team became convinced that a New Deal–style redistributive strategy was ineffective in appealing to conservative voters in the “silent majority,” especially southern conservatives who were opposed to any expansion of federal welfare, even when they would benefit directly. Instead, Nixon began to emphasize the FAP's value as a platform for launching strong rhetorical attacks on welfare. While the president subsequently pulled back from pushing for FAP's legislative enactment, offering an important explanation for the measure's failure, his antiwelfare rhetoric was politically successful, providing subsequent national conservative leaders with a political formula for utilizing antiwelfare rhetoric to build support among white working- and middle-class voters.