UGA’s Russell Library Virtual Event Explores 1980 Election History on Eve of 2020 Vote

Submitted by Camie on

A changing political landscape, an embattled incumbent, a charged Senate battle in the state and a race for support in the suburbs: these are the circumstances that defined the 1980 elections in Georgia.  Just one day before Election Day 2020 among similar circumstances, archivists with the University of Georgia’s Russell Library for Political Research and Studies will trace the history of the election 40 years ago that marked a dramatic moment for both the state and the nation.

The virtual event, which will be held via Facebook Live at 2 p.m. Nov. 2, explores the exhibit “Election 1980: The Elephant in the Room,” which recently opened at the UGA Special Collections Building. The virtual tour will provide context for the races for president and Georgia’s U.S. Senator through the original campaign signs, stickers, and buttons on display. Archivists will share political memorabilia from the race between incumbent Jimmy Carter, a Democrat and Georgia native, and Ronald Reagan, the Republican who eventually won the election, as well as mementos from the parallel Senate race between Herman Talmadge and Mack Mattingly.  

The year marked an important moment in Georgia politics, as Mattingly became the first Republican elected to serve in the U.S. Senate from the state since Reconstruction, helping to jumpstart the party in the state.  Nationally, Reagan’s GOP primary campaign shifted control of the Republican Party to its conservative bloc. Although Carter held on to his home state of Georgia, Reagan’s popularity in the suburbs helped cement the importance of suburban voters and the South in presidential politics in the decades since.

In addition to a live look into the gallery, the virtual event will feature pre-recorded segments with electoral maps prepared by Russell Library graphic design intern Alex Steele, a public relations major in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, that analyze voter turnout and results.

“Forty years ago, Mack Mattingly’s stunning victory and Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory demonstrated that politics in Georgia was changing. Now, in 2020, Republicans and Democrats are locked in close contests in the state. Suburban turnout may prove just as decisive in 2020 as it did in 1980,” said Ashton Ellett, Russell Library politics and public policy a rchivist. “So this exhibit shows how much politics can change in just a few decades — and how things remain the same.”

The exhibit will remain on display through February of 2021. Visitors should check their symptoms via UGA’s Dawg Check tool before arriving to campus and wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines in the galleries.

“The Russell Library always tries to create an exhibition related to campaigns, elections, and voting every presidential election cycle when the public is tuned into and hyper-aware of politics,” Jill Severn, head of access and outreach at the Russell Library said, adding that the virtual event allows for people from across the country to explore the exhibit. “We have some amazing items and collections from past campaigns, and it’s great that people of all political persuasions—from all around the world—will have a chance to view them.”

For more information, see the Russell Library’s Facebook page or contact Kaylynn Washnock Stooksbury at