1980 United States presidential election (Nixon's The One!)

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1980 United States presidential election

← 1976 November 4, 1980 1984 →

538 members of the Electoral College
270 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout 53.5% Decrease 1.7 pp

 
Nominee Elliot Richardson Jesse Unruh
Party Republican Democratic
Home state Massachusetts California
Running mate Vernon Romney Albert Brewer
Electoral vote 388 150
States carried 39 11 + DC
Popular vote 42,199,458 35,015,909
Percentage 54.3% 45.0%

Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Richardson/Romney, blue denotes those won by Unruh/Brewer. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

President before election

Jesse Unruh
Democratic

Elected President

Elliot Richardson
Democratic

The 1980 United States presidential election was the 49th quadrennial presidential election. It was held on Tuesday, November 4, 1980. Republican nominee Elliot Richardson defeated incumbent Democratic President Jesse Unruh in a landslide victory. This was the first time since 1932 that an incumbent was defeated for reelection. Additionally, it was the first since 1888 that a Republican unseated an incumbent Democratic president.

Initially, President John Connally cleared the Democratic primary to secure the party's nomination for another term. Tragedy would strike on June 11, when President Connally was shot and killed by Charles Manson follower Squeaky Fromme at a campaign event in San Francisco. Incumbent Vice President Jesse Unruh assumed the presidency after Connally's death was confirmed at 6:00 PM PST. At the Democratic National Convention, Unruh was challenged by many contenders at the open convention, however after an emotional speech in favor of President Unruh from the former First Lady and widow of John Connally, Nellie Connally, Unruh secured the nomination on the fourth ballot. As a gesture to the southern Democrats, Unruh selected Alabama Governor Albert Brewer as his running mate. On the Republican side, Massachusetts Governor Elliot Richardson emerged as dark horse candidate between conservative California Governor and former Mayor of Los Angeles Ronald Reagan and moderate Senator Thomas B. Curtis of Missouri, as well as a dozen other candidates representing many factions of the party. Richardson, on the advice of party leadership, selected Utah Governor Vernon Romney to be his running mate.

President Unruh was initially expected to defeat Richardson by a large margin in part to the "sympathy vote" following Connally's assassination and Richardson's social positions alienating southern voters. However, a series of gaffes and mishaps by Unruh and his campaign lowered his support by the end of the summer. In both presidential debates, Richardson repositioned his social views as a reflection of conservatism's belief in freedom of choice and advocating for a "hands off" approach for modern issues, namely abortion and prayer in schools. This brought back conservatives who had backed Governor Reagan, who had been campaigning for Governor Richardson following the convention, to rally around the Republican ticket against President Unruh.

In the end, Richardson defeated Unruh by a large margin, taking 388 electoral votes and 39 states, while the incumbent only took 150 electoral votes and 10 states plus Washington. Richardson swept the northeast and dominated Unruh in the Midwest and the Great Plains. Unruh, however, maintained his strength on the west coast and performed better than expected in the south (independent John Rarick significantly under-performed polling), winning the electoral prize of Texas by 2 points.