Election 1980: The Elephant in the Room

Election 1980 exhibit logo
Exhibit Duration
October 2020 - August 2021

Election 1980: The Elephant in the Room explores a historic “change election.” Long-term social, economic, and demographic trends combined with urgent and ongoing national and international crises to determine the future direction of the nation and the fate of two Georgia's most famous --and infamous--politicians.

From the race for the White House between President Jimmy Carter and Governor Ronald Reagan to Herman Talmadge and Mack Mattingly's showdown for a seat in the U.S. Senate, this exhibit invites visitors to relive two of that year’s most exciting campaigns and reexamine the issues confronting the candidates—veterans and newcomers, alike. This exhibit also illustrates the new and volatile electoral landscape confronting both voters and candidates in 1980. A referendum on embattled incumbents, the 1980 elections sparked a resurgence of conservative power in Washington D.C. and set the stage for the rise of the Republican Party in Georgia. Ultimately, these changes would end more than a century and a half of Democratic Party dominance and usher in an era of Republican Party rule.

What can we learn from a single election cycle? How can these campaigns help us better understand current politics? Are we still experiencing the fallout from 1980? Consider these questions and more.