Democratic Party (United States) presidential primaries, 1980

Democratic Presidential Primaries, 1980
United States
1976 ←
→ 1984

  Jimmy Carter.jpg Ted Kennedy, official photo portrait crop.jpg JerryBrown.png
Nominee Jimmy Carter (inc.) Ted Kennedy Jerry Brown
Party Democratic Democratic Democratic
Home state Georgia Massachusetts California
States carried 37 12 1
Popular vote 10,043,016 7,381,693 575,296
Percentage 51.13% 37.58% 2.93%


President before election

Jimmy Carter

Democratic presidential candidate-elect

Jimmy Carter

The 1980 Democratic presidential primaries were the selection process by which voters of the Democratic Party chose its nominee for President of the United States in the 1980 U.S. presidential election. Incumbent President Jimmy Carter was again selected as the nominee through a series of primary elections and caucuses culminating in the 1980 Democratic National Convention held from August 11 to August 14, 1980 in New York City.


Primary race

In the spring and summer of 1979 inflation was on the rise and various parts of the country were experiencing energy shortages.[1] The gas lines last seen just after the Arab/Israeli war of 1973 were back and President Carter was widely blamed.

President Carter's approval ratings were very low -- 28% according to Gallup,[2] with some other polls giving even lower numbers. In July Carter returned from Camp David to reshuffle his cabinet and give a televised address to the nation widely dubbed the "malaise" speech, though the word malaise was never used. While the speech caused a brief upswing in the president's approval rating, the decision to dismiss several cabinet members was widely seen as a rash act of desperation, causing his approval rating to plummet back into the twenties. Some Democrats felt it worth the risk to mount a challenge to Carter in the primaries. Although Hugh Carey and William Proxmire decided not to run, Senator Edward M. Kennedy finally made his long-expected run at the Presidency.

Ted Kennedy had been asked to take his brother Robert’s place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and had refused. He ran for Senate Majority Whip in 1969, but many had thought that he was going to use that as a platform for 1972.[3] But then came the notorious Chappaquiddick incident that killed Kennedy's car passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy refused to run for president in 1972 and 1976. Many of his supporters suspected that Chappaquiddick had destroyed any ability he had to win on a national level. However, in the summer of 1979, Kennedy consulted with his extended family, and that fall, he let it leak out that because of Carter’s failings, 1980 might indeed be the year. Gallup had him beating the president by over two to one.

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"[4] 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.[5] Meanwhile, 52 American hostages were taken by a group of Islamist students and militants in Tehran, Iran, and Carter’s approval ratings jumped in the 60-percent range in some polls, due to a "rally ‘round the flag" effect[6] and an appreciation of Carter's calm handling of the crisis. Kennedy was suddenly left far behind. Carter beat Kennedy decisively in Iowa and New Hampshire. Carter decisively defeated Kennedy everywhere except Massachusetts, until impatience began to build with the President’s strategy on Iran. When the primaries in New York and Connecticut came around, it was Kennedy who won.

Carter was still able to maintain a substantial lead even after Kennedy swept the last batch of primaries in June. Despite this, Kennedy refused to drop out, and the 1980 Democratic National Convention was one of the nastiest on record. On the penultimate day, Kennedy conceded the nomination and called for a more liberal party platform in what many saw as the best speech of his career. On the platform on the final day, Kennedy for the most part ignored Carter.

Candidates gallery

States carried by candidates

Statewide contest by winners:[7]




Popular vote

Primaries total popular vote[8]


Presidential tally[9]

In the vice presidential roll call, Mondale was re-nominated with 2,428.7 votes to 723.3 not voting and 179 scattering.

Key results


Iowa Caucus, 1980
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Jimmy Carter (Incumbent) 59,100 59.16%
Democratic Edward Kennedy 31,200 31.23% -
Majority 27,900 27.93%

New Hampshire primary

New Hampshire primary, 1980
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Jimmy Carter (Incumbent) 52,692 47.08%
Democratic Edward Kennedy 41,745 37.30% -
Majority 10,947 9.78%

Massachusetts primary

Massachusetts primary, 1980
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Edward Kennedy 590,393 65.07%
Democratic Jimmy Carter (Incumbent) 260,401 28.70% -
Majority 329,992 36.37%

See also


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