U.S. presidential election, 1972

From Academic Kids

Presidential electoral votes by state.
Presidential electoral votes by state.

The U.S. presidential election of 1972 was waged on the issues of law and order and the Vietnam War. George Wallace, the popular segregationist governor of Alabama, ran a law and order campaign for the Democratic nomination, but saw his chances for nomination end when he was shot in May. The Democratic nomination was eventually won by George McGovern who ran an anti-war campaign against incumbent President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon won the election in a landslide, but the seeds of his eventual ouster were planted as people working for his campaign broke into the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate hotel.



Democratic Party nomination

The establishment-favorite for the nomination was 1968 Vice Presidential candidate, the moderate Ed Muskie, but he failed to live up to expectations in key primaries. The primary-voters were in large part anti-war. This favored Senator George McGovern. When Muskie did worse than expected in the New Hampshire primary, his neighboring state, and McGovern came in on a good second, McGovern got the momentum Muskie was supposed to have had. The second-place was put to good use by McGovern's effective campaign-manager, Gary Hart, a presidential contender himself 12 years later.

George Wallace did well in the South (he won every county in the Florida primary) and amongst alienated and dissatisfied voters with his 'outsider'-image. In 1968, the Alabama governor had led a law and order campaign similar to that of Richard Nixon, taking a lot of votes away from Nixon, especially in the South. This led Nixon to fear Wallace fronting a Democratic ticket in 1972. The president had supported the incumbent governor of Alabama in the gubernatorial primaries against Wallace in 1970, and had ordered IRS investigations of the Wallace campaign, to little effect. What could have become a forceful campaign was cut short when Wallace was shot and left paralyzed in an assassination attempt while campaigning in Maryland. He would go on to win the Maryland primary, but that was the effective end of his campaign.

In the end, McGovern succeeded in winning the nomination by winning primaries through grass-roots support in spite of establishment opposition. McGovern had led a commission to redesign the Democratic nomination system after the messy and confused nomination struggle and convention of 1968. The fundamental principle of the McGovern Commission--that the Democratic primaries should determine the winner of the Democratic nomination--lasted throughout every subsequent nomination contest. McGovern chose Thomas Eagleton as a vice-presidential candidate, but Eagleton had difficulty campaigning due to widespread media criticism about his initial failure to disclose his receiving electroshock therapy for depression, and was eventually replaced by Sargent Shriver.

The Hunter S Thompson book "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72" covers McGovern's campaign to win the Democratic nomination.

Republican Party nomination

Missing image
Richard Nixon during the campaign

Despite polls showing that he had a strong lead over any potential Democratic nominee, President Nixon was challenged in the GOP primaries by two congressmen from both sides of the political spectrum, the liberal Pete McCloskey of California and the conservative John Ashbrook of Ohio. McCloskey ran as an anti-war and anti-Nixon candidate, while Ashbrook opposed Nixon's détente policies towards China and the USSR. In the New Hampshire primary McCloskey's platform of peace garnered a surprising 20% of the vote to Nixon's 68%, with Ashbrook receiving 10%. The outspoken McCloskey, one of a handful of antiwar Republicans in Congress, eventually snubbed the president by denying Nixon his coveted "nomination by acclamation" when the California congressman won the vote of exactly one delegate at the Republican National Convention, to Nixon's 1,347 delegates.

Other nominations

Conservative congressman John G. Schmitz of the American Party was on the ballot in 32 states and received 1,099,482 popular votes.

John Hospers of the newly formed Libertarian Party was on the ballot only in Colorado and Washington and received only 3,673 popular votes. However, he was given one electoral vote by Republican elector Roger MacBride.

Benjamin Spock was nominated by the People's Party, which was also newly formed and which disbanded after the election.

General election


The New York Times front page from the day after the election: November 8, 1972.
The New York Times front page from the day after the election: November 8, 1972.

George McGovern ran on a platform of ending the Vietnam War and instituting guaranteed minimum incomes for the nation's poor. Between difficulties with his running-mate, Thomas Eagleton (who he eventually dropped and replaced with Sargent Shriver), and the Republicans' successful campaign to paint him as unacceptably radical, he suffered a landslide defeat of 61%-38% to sitting President Richard Nixon. Nixon's percentage of the popular vote was only sightly less than Lyndon Johnson's record in the 1964 election. Nixon won a majority vote in 49 states, with only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia voting for the challenger, resulting in an even more lopsided Electoral College tally.

Nixon ran a harsh campaign with an aggressive policy of keeping tabs on perceived enemies, and his campaign aides committed the Watergate burglary to steal Democratic Party information during the election. Nixon's level of personal involvement with the burglary was never clear, but his tactics during the later coverup eventually destroyed his public support and led to his resignation.

This election had the lowest voter turnout for a presidential election since 1948, with only 55 percent of the electorate voting. Part of the steep drop from the previous elections can be explained by the ratification of the 26th Amendment which expanded the franchise to 18-year-olds.


Template:Start U.S. presidential ticket box Template:U.S. presidential ticket box row Template:U.S. presidential ticket box row Template:U.S. presidential ticket box row Template:U.S. presidential ticket box row Template:U.S. presidential ticket box other Template:End U.S. presidential ticket box (a) Wikipedia research has been unable to determine whether Anderson's home state was Tennessee or Texas at the time of this election.

Source: U.S. Office of the Federal Register (http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/electoral_college/scores.html#1972)


May 15 
Governor and Presidential candidate George C. Wallace of Alabama is shot by Arthur H. Bremer at a Laurel, Md., political rally.
June 17 
Watergate break-in, Washington, D.C.
July 10July 13 
United States Democratic Party convention and nomination of George McGovern
August 21August 23 
United States Republican Party convention and nomination of Richard M. Nixon
November 7 
Richard M. Nixon defeated George McGovern

See also



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