Today in History: Ronald Reagan elected as the 40th President of the United States

by Alex Caldwell

On Nov. 4, 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected as the 40th President of the United States, winning a landslide victory over the incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

California Gov. Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter on November 4, 1980.

On Nov. 13, 1979, Ronald Reagan declared his candidacy for president. Reagan, a two-term governor from California and Hollywood movie star, sought to win the Republican Party’s nomination for the third time. He had lost the nomination in 1968 to Richard Nixon and 1976 to Gerald Ford.

Reagan campaigned against a crowded field of Republicans, including George H.W. Bush. Bush proved to be Reagan’s most competitive challenger. However, the majority of Republicans rallied behind Reagan, who ultimately won the nomination. Reagan extended an olive branch to Bush and tapped him to be his running mate.

Democrat President Jimmy Carter secured the Democratic Party’s nomination after a challenge from Sen. Ted Kennedy. While incumbent presidents typically do not face primary opposition, Kennedy attacked Carter and aimed to move the party more to the left. While Carter won the nomination against Kennedy, the brutal campaign between the two and Kennedy’s staunch public dislike of Carter nearly tore the Democratic Party apart ahead of the general election.

President Carter (right) defeated a challenge from Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy (left) during the 1980 Democratic primaries.

Ahead of the general election, President Carter’s unpopularity seemingly increased as record inflation, rising gas prices, and rising unemployment, issues nearly identical to present day, plagued the nation. Americans also saw Carter as ineffective, being unable to rescue the American hostages in Iran and stand up to the Soviet Union.

Reagan pressed the issues to Americans, asking them frankly during the presidential debate if they felt that they were better off today than they were four years ago. Reagan’s question resonated with Americans, and Carter’s poll numbers tanked the critical week before the election.

On Nov. 4, 1980, Reagan issued a landslide defeat to Carter, carrying 44 of the 50 states. Reagan obtained 50 percent of the popular vote, Carter received 41 percent of the vote, and independent candidate John Anderson carried seven percent.

At age 69, Reagan became the oldest individual to be elected president, although he was later surpassed decades later by Presidents Donald Trump at 70-years-old and Joe Biden at age 78-years-old. Carter was the first elected incumbent president to lose re-election since President Herbert Hoover’s defeat to New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

On Jan. 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States, turning the nation to a new chapter in American history.

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