Ronald Reagan is elected the 40th President of The United States.
The United States presidential election of 1980 was the 49th quadrennial presidential election. It was held on November 4, 1980. Republican nominee Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter. Due to the rise of conservativism following Reagan’s victory, some historians consider the election to be a realigning election that marked the start of the “Reagan Era”.
Carter’s unpopularity and poor relations with Democratic leaders encouraged an intra-party challenge by Senator Ted Kennedy, a younger brother of former President John F. Kennedy. Carter defeated Kennedy in the majority of the Democratic primaries, but Kennedy remained in the race until Carter was officially nominated at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. The Republican primaries were contested between Reagan, who had previously served as the Governor of California, former Congressman George H. W. Bush of Texas, Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois, and several other candidates. All of Reagan’s opponents had dropped out by the end of the primaries, and the 1980 Republican National Convention nominated a ticket consisting of Reagan and Bush. Anderson entered the race as an independent candidate, and convinced former Wisconsin Governor Patrick Lucey, a Democrat, to serve as his running mate.
Reagan campaigned for increased defense spending, implementation of supply-side economic policies, and a balanced budget. His campaign was aided by Democratic dissatisfaction with Carter, the Iran hostage crisis, and a worsening economy at home marked by high unemployment and inflation. Carter attacked Reagan as a dangerous right-wing extremist and warned that Reagan would cut Medicare and Social Security.
Reagan won the election by a landslide, taking a large majority of the electoral vote and 50.7% of the popular vote. Reagan received the highest number of electoral votes ever won by a non-incumbent presidential candidate. In the simultaneous Congressional elections, Republicans won control of the United States Senate for the first time since 1955. Carter won 41% of the vote but carried just six states and Washington, D.C. Anderson won 6.6% of the popular vote, and he performed best among liberal Republican voters dissatisfied with Reagan. Reagan, then 69, was at the time the oldest person to ever be inaugurated as president.
Throughout the 1970s, the United States underwent a wrenching period of low economic growth, high inflation and interest rates, and intermittent energy crises. By October 1978, Iran—a major oil supplier to the United States at the time—was experiencing a major uprising that severely damaged its oil infrastructure and greatly weakened its capability to produce oil. In January 1979, shortly after Iran’s leader Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled the country, Iranian opposition figure Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ended his 14-year exile in France and returned to Iran to establish an Islamic Republic, largely hostile to American interests and influence in the country. In the spring and summer of 1979 inflation was on the rise and various parts of the United States were experiencing energy shortages.
Carter was widely blamed for the return of the long gas lines in the summer of 1979 that were last seen just after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He planned on delivering his fifth major speech on energy, but he felt that the American people were no longer listening. Carter left for the presidential retreat of Camp David. “For more than a week, a veil of secrecy enveloped the proceedings. Dozens of prominent Democratic Party leaders—members of Congress, governors, labor leaders, academics and clergy—were summoned to the mountaintop retreat to confer with the beleaguered president.” His pollster, Pat Caddell, told him that the American people simply faced a crisis of confidence because of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Vietnam War; and Watergate. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave a nationally televised address in which he identified what he believed to be a “crisis of confidence” among the American people. This came to be known as his “malaise” speech, although Carter never used the word in the speech.
Many expected Senator Ted Kennedy to successfully challenge Carter in the upcoming Democratic Primary. Kennedy’s official announcement was scheduled for early November. A television interview with Roger Mudd of CBS a few days before the announcement went badly, however. Kennedy gave an “incoherent and repetitive” answer to the question of why he was running, and the polls, which showed him leading the President by 58-25 in August now had him ahead 49–39.
Meanwhile, Carter was given an opportunity for political redemption when the Khomeini regime again gained public attention and allowed the taking of 52 American hostages by a group of Islamist students and militants at the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. Carter’s calm approach towards the handling of this crisis resulted in his approval ratings jump in the 60-percent range in some polls, due to a “rally round the flag” effect.
By the beginning of the election campaign, the prolonged Iran hostage crisis had sharpened public perceptions of a national crisis. On April 25, 1980, Carter’s ability to use the hostage crisis to regain public acceptance eroded when his high risk attempt to rescue the hostages ended in disaster when eight servicemen were killed. The unsuccessful rescue attempt drew further skepticism towards his leadership skills.
Following the failed rescue attempt, Carter took overwhelming blame for the Iran hostage crisis, in which the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini burned American flags and chanted anti-American slogans, paraded the captured American hostages in public, and burned Carter in effigy. Carter’s critics saw him as an inept leader who had failed to solve the worsening economic problems at home. His supporters defended the president as a decent, well-intentioned man being unfairly criticized for problems that had been escalating for years.
Another event that polarized the electorate was the U.S.-led 1980 Summer Olympics boycott. Shortly following the Soviet Union’s December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, Carter demanded that the USSR withdraw from Afghanistan or the U.S. would boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics, set to be staged in Moscow. The USSR did not withdraw . Carter’s stance was controversial—he was both praised for his moral stand and criticized for politicizing the Olympics. With many allied countries joining the U.S. in the boycott, the contrasting spirits of competitive goodwill and campaign animosity, a feature of most presidential campaign years, was absent and the press had additional time to devote to national and international strife.