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Election of 1980: The Year of the Conservative Comeback

The election of 1976 had brought Jimmy Carter to the White House as a different kind of Southern Democrat. His domestic policies failed to resonate with the American public and his standing as an international leader was badly damaged by the Iranian hostage drama that began in 1979 and continued until after the inauguration of his successor.

Nevertheless, the Democrats were not inclined to switch allegiance from an incumbent and Carter had no difficulty securing his party`s nomination. On the Republican side, the contest to oppose Carter was very active. Ronald Reagan had emerged from the 1976 as the clear favorite of the conservative wing. His opponents included George H.W. Bush, an Eastern establishment candidate, and John Anderson, a progressive Republican. Reagan was successful in the primaries, causing Anderson to drop out of the Republican Party altogether and Bush to switch some positions in order to remake himself as a running mate for Reagan.

As the campaign began in earnest after the conventions, Carter held a lead over Reagan, but Reagan did well in debates and was able to overcome the perception that he held radical positions that would be a danger to the country. In November, the voters entrusted him with the Presidency, and initiated a period of twelve years of Republican control of the White House.

Election of 1980
Candidates Party Electoral Vote Popular Vote
Ronald W. Reagan (CA) George H.W. Bush (TX) Republican 489 43,898,770
Jimmy Carter (GA) Walter F. Mondale (MN) Democratic 49 35,480,948
John B. Anderson (IL) Patrick Lucey (WI) Independent ... 5,719,222
Ed Clark (CA) David Koch (NY) Libertarian ... 920,049
Election of 1976 Election of 1984