In reality, issue by issue the majority of Americans were against Reagan policies throughout his presidency. He did receive a bounce after leaving office, but in 1990, in fact a year after leaving office, Americans rated Carter more favourably than Reagan.
Reagan did not reduce the size of government; indeed, the number of people on the federal payroll went up significantly under his leadership, which destroys another Republican/Teabagging group psychosis claim about them being the party of minimal federal government. A myth indeed.
When Reagan took office, middle-income Americans with children paid 8.2% of pay in income taxes + 9.5% in payroll taxes; when Reagan left it was 6.6% and 11.5%. Yes, unless you were rich, your federal tax burden went up, illustrating that Reagan pretty much catered only for his tax-cut-seeking electoral base and not the average American family.
Lifting many restrictions on S&Ls in 1982 was followed by a bailout 7 years later due to losses in high-risk commercial real estate ventures, and then the 2009 prime-mortgage fiasco. Proof that new Republican dogs cannot learn old tricks.
Manufacturing jobs declined under Reagan by an estimated 300,000 - 1.8 million, the US became the world's greatest debtor nation (a habit, policy and national trend continued under both Bushs), wealth inequality began its great upward leap, and the middle-class began its decades of real-income stagnation.
At the time that it happened, Americans did not credit Reagan with the fall of the Berlin Wall. A USA Today poll 4 days after the fall of the Berlin Wall (in 1989) gave 43% of the credit to Gorbachev, and 14% to Reagan; the figures were 70% and 2% among Germans.
In 1985, Reagan ruled out a military response to a Beirut hijacking for fear of civilian casualties; Lou Cannon reported then in the Washington Post that Reagan called retaliation in which innocent civilians are killed “itself a terrorist act": something which didn't stop him bombing Libya and, err... killing civilians.
The Reagan administration was completely against trying terrorists in military tribunals. Paul Bremer (yes, that Paul Bremer) said in 1987, “a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are — criminals — and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law, against them.” Bizarre, then, that Bremer was GW Bush's man on the ground in Iraq in the 'War on Terrorism' (not that Iraq ever threatened the US in any manifest way, nor did his time there see Bremer wish to stick by his own words when ferrying suspects over to military tribunals at Gitmo, instead of insisting that they be tried in civil courts - you know, "to use democracy's most potent tool" to prove that the rule of law works...)
I still can't figure out whether that's breathtaking hypocrisy or epoch-redefining irony? Probably both.
Finally, nowadays, whereas any self-respecting Republican, or at least those now scrabbling to be cast in the Reaganite mould (and they are legion), routinely claim to be a deficit-busting 'fiscal conservative', a term rapidly becoming a devalued currency for its claimants, interesting then that, according to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, former Vice President Cheney claimed during a cabinet meeting that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” Which prompts the question: then why do these self-same people bitch and whine non-stop about "the deficit", whilst seeking, feloniously, to paint the deficit as something which is Obama's fault, when he wasn't even in power during the previous eight Bush years which actually created it? Indeed, hypocrisy aside, as Will Bunch points out in the his Harper's interview:
'I would argue that there are parallels between Reagan and Obama, in the sense that both presidents came into power during economic crises and both cut taxes and increased spending in their first year, leading to higher deficits. The one difference—and it’s an important one—is that Reagan’s increased spending was for the relatively wasteful area of defense (although it did lead to some job creation) while Obama is making an attempt to target more useful areas, such as infrastructure and alternative energy. The bottom line on Reaganomics is pretty bleak. Yearly deficits soared, and the overall national debt nearly tripled, from $930 billion to about $2.7 trillion, according to the Washington Post.'
For those who'd like a comparison with another runaway-deficit-creating Republican president, here are the figures on GW Bush's presidency: Closing The Book On The Bush Legacy - and they do not make pleasant reading for Americans.