As we know, in 1980, Reagan won less than 51% of the vote, but carried 44 out of 50 states and over 88% of the electoral votes. How was this possible? Though the popular vote was extremely polarized in the West of the Mississippi, East of the Mississippi, it was very much non-polarized except in a few states, like New Hampshire and Georgia.
The 1980 map:
Reagan wins, 489-49.
The 1980 map, but with all states in which Reagan didn’t win a majority of the popular vote given to Carter:
Carter wins, 284-254, with Reagan thus becoming the first Republican candidate to lose the presidency while winning a majority of the popular vote.
The 1980 map, but with all John Anderson (a liberal) votes given to Carter:
Reagan wins 331-207, similar to Mitt Romney’s defeat. Not a landslide, but not bad, either. Note that McCain won all the southern states except Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and North Carolina, while Obama in 2008 won NH, PA, IL, NJ, OH, and IN. The center of the Republican Party has shifted way South of the Ohio River since 1980. Almost all Anderson voters are Democrats now.
Carter only won a majority of the popular vote in his home state.