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1972 United States presidential election

47th presidential election in the united states

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1972 United States presidential election

← 1968 November 7, 1972 1976 →

538 members of the Electoral College
270 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout55.2%[1] 5.7 pp
 
Nominee Richard Nixon George McGovern
Party Republican Democratic
Home state California South Dakota
Running mate Spiro Agnew Sargent Shriver
(originally Thomas Eagleton)
Electoral vote 520 17
States carried 49 1 + DC
Popular vote 47,168,710 29,173,222
Percentage 60.7% 37.5%

Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Nixon/Agnew and blue denotes those won by McGovern/Shriver. Gold is the electoral vote for Hospers/Nathan by a Virginia faithless elector. Numbers indicate electoral votes cast by each state and the District of Columbia.

President before election

Richard Nixon
Republican

Elected President

Richard Nixon
Republican

The 1972 United States presidential election was the 47th quadrennial presidential election. It was held on Tuesday, November 7, 1972. Incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon from California defeated Democratic U.S. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Until the 1984 election, this was the largest margin of victory in the Electoral College for a Republican in a U.S. presidential election.

Nixon easily swept aside challenges from two Republican congressmen in the 1972 Republican primaries to win re-nomination. McGovern, who had played a significant role in reforming the Democratic nomination system after the 1968 election, mobilized the anti-war movement and other liberal supporters to win his party's nomination. Among the candidates he defeated were early front-runner Edmund Muskie, 1968 nominee Hubert Humphrey, and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American to run for a major party's presidential nomination.

Nixon emphasized the strong economy and his success in foreign affairs, while McGovern ran on a platform calling for an immediate end to the Vietnam War, and the institution of a guaranteed minimum income. Nixon maintained a large and consistent lead in polling. Separately, Nixon's reelection committee broke into the Watergate complex to wiretap the Democratic National Committee's headquarters, a scandal that would later be known as "Watergate". McGovern's campaign was further damaged by the revelation that his running mate, Thomas Eagleton, had undergone electroconvulsive therapy as a treatment for depression. Eagleton was replaced on the ballot by Sargent Shriver.

Nixon won the election in a landslide, taking 60.7% of the popular vote and carrying 49 states while being the first Republican to sweep the South. McGovern took just 37.5% of the popular vote, while John G. Schmitz of the American Independent Party won 1.4% of the vote. Nixon received almost 18 million more votes than McGovern, and he holds the record for the widest popular vote margin in any post-World War II United States presidential election. The 1972 presidential election was the first since the ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Within two years of the election, both Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from office: the former in August 1974, due to Watergate, the latter in October 1973, due to a separate corruption charge. Gerald Ford succeeded Agnew as vice president, then in the following year succeeded Nixon as president, making him the only U.S. president in history to not be elected to the office on a presidential ticket. As of the 2016 election, this was the last time that Minnesota voted for the Republican candidate in a presidential election, and only once since then has Rhode Island done so.

1972 United States presidential election Intro articles: 93

Republican nomination

Republican candidates:

Republican Party Ticket, 1972
Richard Nixon Spiro Agnew
for President for Vice President
37th
President of the United States
(1969–1974)
39th
Vice President of the United States
(1969–1973)
Campaign

Primaries

Richard Nixon was a popular incumbent president in 1972, as he was credited with opening the People's Republic of China as a result of his 1972 visit, and achieving détente with the Soviet Union. Polls showed that Nixon held a strong lead in the Republican primaries. He was challenged by two candidates, liberal Pete McCloskey from California and conservative John Ashbrook from Ohio. McCloskey ran as an anti-war candidate, while Ashbrook opposed Nixon's détente policies towards China and the Soviet Union. In the New Hampshire primary McCloskey garnered 19.8% of the vote to Nixon's 67.6%, with Ashbrook receiving 9.7%.[2] Nixon won 1323 of the 1324 delegates to the Republican convention, with McCloskey receiving the vote of one delegate from New Mexico. Vice President Spiro Agnew was re-nominated by acclamation; while both the party's moderate wing and Nixon himself had wanted to replace him with a new running-mate (the moderates favoring Nelson Rockefeller, and Nixon favoring John Connally), it was ultimately concluded that such action would incur too great a risk of losing Agnew's base of conservative supporters.

Primary results

Primaries popular vote result:[3]

Convention

Seven members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War were brought on federal charges for conspiring to disrupt the Republican convention.[4] They were acquitted by a federal jury in Gainesville, Florida.[4]

1972 United States presidential election Republican nomination articles: 21

Democratic nomination

Overall, fifteen people declared their candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination. They were:[5][6]

Democratic Party Ticket, 1972
George McGovern Sargent Shriver
for President for Vice President
U.S. Senator
from South Dakota
(1963–1981)
21st
U.S. Ambassador to France
(1968–1970)
Campaign

Primaries

Senate Majority Whip Ted Kennedy, the youngest brother of late President John F. Kennedy and late United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was the favorite to win the 1972 nomination, but he announced he would not be a candidate.[7] The favorite for the Democratic nomination then became Senator Ed Muskie,[8] the 1968 vice-presidential nominee.[9] Muskie's momentum collapsed just prior to the New Hampshire primary, when the so-called "Canuck letter" was published in the Manchester Union-Leader. The letter, actually a forgery from Nixon's "dirty tricks" unit, claimed that Muskie had made disparaging remarks about French-Canadians – a remark likely to injure Muskie's support among the French-American population in northern New England.[10] Subsequently, the paper published an attack on the character of Muskie's wife Jane, reporting that she drank and used off-color language during the campaign. Muskie made an emotional defense of his wife in a speech outside the newspaper's offices during a snowstorm. Though Muskie later stated that what had appeared to the press as tears were actually melted snowflakes, the press reported that Muskie broke down and cried, shattering the candidate's image as calm and reasoned.[10][11]

Nearly two years before the election, South Dakota Senator George McGovern entered the race as an anti-war, progressive candidate.[12] McGovern was able to pull together support from the anti-war movement and other grassroots support to win the nomination in a primary system he had played a significant part in designing.

On January 25, 1972, New York Representative Shirley Chisholm announced she would run, and became the first African-American woman to run for the Democratic or Republican presidential nomination. Hawaii Representative Patsy Mink also announced she would run, and became the first Asian American to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.[13]

On April 25, George McGovern won the Massachusetts primary. Two days later, journalist Robert Novak quoted a "Democratic senator" later revealed to be Thomas Eagleton as saying: "The people don't know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion, and legalization of pot. Once middle America – Catholic middle America, in particular – finds this out, he's dead." The label stuck and McGovern became known as the candidate of "amnesty, abortion, and acid". It became Humphrey's battle cry to stop McGovern—especially in the Nebraska primary.[14][15]

Alabama Governor George Wallace, an anti-integrationist, did well in the South (winning nearly every county in the Florida primary) and among alienated and dissatisfied voters in the North.[16] What might have become a forceful campaign was cut short when Wallace was shot in an assassination attempt by Arthur Bremer on May 15. Wallace was struck by five bullets and left paralyzed from the waist down. The day after the assassination attempt, Wallace won the Michigan and Maryland primaries, but the shooting effectively ended his campaign and he pulled out in July.

In the end, McGovern won the nomination by winning primaries through grassroots support in spite of establishment opposition. McGovern had led a commission to re-design the Democratic nomination system after the divisive 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—have lasted throughout every subsequent nomination contest. However, the new rules angered many prominent Democrats whose influence was marginalized and those politicians refused to support McGovern's campaign (some even supporting Nixon instead), leaving the McGovern campaign at a significant disadvantage in funding compared to Nixon.

Primary results

Statewide contest by winner

Primaries popular vote results:[17]

Notable endorsements

Edmund Muskie

Hubert Humphrey

George McGovern

George Wallace

Shirley Chisholm

Terry Sanford

Henry M. Jackson

1972 Democratic National Convention

Video from the Florida conventions

Results:

The vice presidential vote

Most polls showed McGovern running well behind incumbent President Richard Nixon, except when McGovern was paired with Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. McGovern and his campaign brain trust lobbied Kennedy heavily to accept the bid to be McGovern's running mate, but he continually refused their advances, and instead suggested U.S. Representative (and House Ways and Means Committee chairman) Wilbur Mills of Arkansas and Boston Mayor Kevin White.[27] Offers were then made to Hubert Humphrey, Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff, and Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, all of whom turned it down. Finally, the vice presidential slot was offered to Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, who accepted the offer.[27]

With hundreds of delegates displeased with McGovern, the vote to ratify Eagleton's candidacy was chaotic, with at least three other candidates having their names put into nomination and votes scattered over 70 candidates.[28] A grassroots attempt to displace Eagleton in favor of Texas state representative Frances Farenthold gained significant traction, though was ultimately unable to change the outcome of the vote.[29]

The vice-presidential balloting went on so long that McGovern and Eagleton were forced to begin making their acceptance speeches at around 2 am, local time.

After the convention ended, it was discovered that Eagleton had undergone psychiatric electroshock therapy for depression and had concealed this information from McGovern. A Time magazine poll taken at the time found that 77 percent of the respondents said, "Eagleton's medical record would not affect their vote." Nonetheless, the press made frequent references to his "shock therapy", and McGovern feared that this would detract from his campaign platform.[30] McGovern subsequently consulted confidentially with preeminent psychiatrists, including Eagleton's own doctors, who advised him that a recurrence of Eagleton's depression was possible and could endanger the country should Eagleton become president.[31][32][33][34][35] McGovern had initially claimed that he would back Eagleton "1000 percent", only to ask Eagleton to withdraw three days later. This perceived lack of conviction in sticking with his running mate was disastrous for the McGovern campaign.

McGovern later approached six different prominent Democrats to run for vice-president: Ted Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, Hubert Humphrey, Abraham Ribicoff, Larry O'Brien and Reubin Askew. All six declined. Sargent Shriver, brother-in-law to John, Robert, and Ted Kennedy, former Ambassador to France and former Director of the Peace Corps, later accepted.[36] He was officially nominated by a special session of the Democratic National Committee. By this time, McGovern's poll ratings had plunged from 41 to 24 percent.

1972 United States presidential election Democratic nomination articles: 105