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Distribution of votes in the 1980 US presidential election

The 1980 US presidential election was contested between incumbent President Jimmy Carter of the Democratic Party, Ronald Reagan of the Republican Party, and independent candidate John B. Anderson. Carter became increasingly unpopular as his term progressed, due to increased tensions from the Cold War and the Iran Hostage Crisis, as well as high unemployment and a worsening economy. Carter faced off against Ted Kennedy (the youngest sibling of President John F. Kennedy) for the Democratic nomination, and Carter defeated Kennedy in 24 out of 34 primaries, returning his name to the ballot. Ronald Reagan had been a major figure in the Republican Party for over a decade, and was particularly popular among the conservative wing of the party. Reagan faced many opponents in the Republican Party, and his two closest rivals were future-President George H. W. Bush, and John B. Anderson. Reagan won convincingly, and convinced Bush to run as his vice president, while Anderson also stayed in the race as an independent candidate. Ed Clarke was the Libertarian Party's candidate. This was also the first election in which the National Rifle Association (NRA) publicly endorsed a nominee.


As soon as the primaries were over, Carter began to paint Reagan as right-wing extremist who posed a threat to social security, which led many to view Carter's campaign as a pessimistic and desperate one, while Reagan's message was perceived by many to be one of hope and optimism. Carter's management of the 1980 Recession also damaged his campaign, and led to the famous Nixon quote; "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his." The Carter campaign was able to retaliate, by using some of Nixon's other quotes and gaffs against him, such as Nixon's claim that trees caused pollution. Reagan's popularity grew as the campaign progressed, and the televised debates also proved to be a decisive victory for Reagan, whose popularity soared afterwards.


Reagan won by a landslide, in the largest electoral college victory for a non-incumbent president in US history, and the largest popular vote victory since 1932, when Roosevelt defeated Hoover during the Great Depression. Reagan carried 44 states, while Carter took just six and Washington DC. This returned over ninety percent of the electoral seats too Reagan, although he took just slightly more than fifty percent of the popular vote. Carter's share of the popular vote was just 41 percent, while Anderson managed to take 6.6 percent, and Clark took 1.06 percent.

Share of electoral college* and popular votes** in the 49th US presidential election in 1980

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Release date



United States

Survey time period


Supplementary notes

*Actual number of electoral votes:
Ronald Reagan - 489
Jimmy Carter - 49
John B. Anderson - 0
Edward Clark - 0

**Actual number of popular votes:
Ronald Reagan - 43,904,153
Jimmy Carter - 35,483,883
John B. Anderson - 5,719,437
Edward Clark - 920,049

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