1981 United States elections
← 1979          1980          1981          1982          1983 →
Off-year elections
Election dayNovember 3
Congressional special elections
Seats contested5
Net seat changeDemocrat +1
Gubernatorial elections
Seats contested2
Net seat change0
1981 New Jersey gubernatorial election1981 Virginia gubernatorial election1981 United States gubernatorial elections results map.svg
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1981 Gubernatorial election results map
  Republican gain   Democratic gain
  No election

The 1981 United States elections were off-year elections were held on Tuesday, November 3, 1981, comprising 2 gubernatorial races, 5 congressional special elections, and a plethora of other local elections across the United States. No Senate special elections were held.

Federal elections

United States House of Representatives special elections

In 1981, five special elections were held to fill vacancies to the 97th United States Congress. They were for Michigan's 4th congressional district, Maryland's 5th congressional district, Ohio's 4th congressional district, Mississippi's 4th congressional district, and Pennsylvania's 3rd congressional district.

District Date Predecessor Winner Cause of vacancy
Michigan 4 April 21, 1981 David Stockman Mark D. Siljander Resigned January 27, 1981, to become Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Maryland 5 May 19, 1981 Gladys Spellman Steny Hoyer Incapacitated since last Congress and seat declared vacant February 24, 1981.
Ohio 4 June 25, 1981 Tennyson Guyer Mike Oxley Died April 12, 1981.
Mississippi 4 July 7, 1981 Jon Hinson Wayne Dowdy Resigned April 13, 1981.
Pennsylvania 3 July 21, 1981 Raymond F. Lederer Joseph F. Smith Convicted of bribery in the Abscam sting operation, resigned.

State and local elections

Several statewide elections were held this year, most notably the gubernatorial elections in two U.S. States.

Gubernatorial elections

Main article: 1981 United States gubernatorial elections

Two gubernatorial elections were held in 1981 in New Jersey and the Commonwealth of Virginia and both states flipped parties.

State Incumbent Party Result Opposing candidates
New Jersey Brendan Byrne Democratic Term-limited, Republican victory Thomas Kean (Republican) 49.5%
James Florio (Democratic) 49.4%[1]
Virginia John N. Dalton Republican Term-limited, Democratic victory Chuck Robb (Democratic) 53.6%
Marshall Coleman (Republican) 46.4%

Note: Candidates' vote percentages are rounded to the nearest tenth of one percent. Candidates earning 0.05% or more of the vote are included.


Elections took place in the New Jersey Senate and Virginia House of Delegates. The Democrats maintained control of the New Jersey Senate but lost 2 seats.[2] In Virginia, Democrats maintained control of the House of Delegates but lost 8 seats.


  1. ^ The original election results were close; Florio called for a recount. The results here are from the recount.
  2. ^ "Candidates for the Offices of State Senate and General Assembly" (PDF). Retrieved 26 June 2021.