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The United States presidential election of 1972 was the 47th quadrennial United Statesmarker presidential election. It was held on November 7, 1972. The Democratic Party's nomination was eventually won by Senator George McGovern, who ran an anti-war campaign against incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon, but was handicapped by his outsider status as well as the scandal and subsequent firing of vice presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton.

Emphasizing a good economy and his successes in foreign affairs (especially ending Ameircan involvement in Vietnam and establishing relations with Chinamarker), Nixon managed to win the election in a massive landslide (the same proportion as in 1964, when LBJ massively and lopsidedly defeated Goldwater). Nixon won the election, with a 23.2% margin of victory in the popular vote, the fourth largest margin in presidential election history. He received almost 18 million more popular votes than McGovern—the widest margin of any U.S. presidential election.

Democratic nomination

Democratic candidates:

Candidates gallery

Image:GeorgeStanleyMcGovern.png|Senator George McGovern of South DakotamarkerImage:HubertHumphrey.png|Senator and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey of MinnesotamarkerImage:GeorgeCWallace.png|Governor George Wallace of AlabamamarkerImage:Edmund Muskie.jpg|Senator Edmund Muskie of MainemarkerImage:EugeneMcCarthy.jpg|Former Senator Eugene McCarthy of MinnesotaImage:HenryJackson.jpg|Senator Henry M. Jackson of WashingtonmarkerImage:Shirley Chisholm.jpg|Representative Shirley Chisholm of New YorkmarkerImage:Terry Sanford.jpg|Former Governor Terry Sanford of North CarolinamarkerImage:JohnLindsay.png|Mayor John Lindsay of New YorkmarkerImage:WilburMills.jpg|Representative Wilbur Mills of ArkansasmarkerFile:Vance Hartke.jpg|Senator Vance Hartke of IndianamarkerImage:FredRoyHarris.jpg|Senator Fred R. Harris of Oklahomamarker


Senate Majority Whip Ted Kennedy, the younger brother of former president John F. Kennedy and former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had been the favorite to win the 1972 nomination, but his hopes were derailed by his role in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incidentmarker. He was not a candidate.

The favorite for the Democratic nomination then became Ed Muskie, the 1968 vice-presidential nominee. In August 1971 Harris polling amid a growing economic crisis, Muskie came out on top of incumbent Nixon if the election had been held that day.

Shirley Chisholm announced she would run and became the first African American to run for the Democratic or Republican presidential nomination and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

However, prior to the New Hampshire primary, the "Canuck letter" was published in the Manchester Union-Leader. The letter, whose authenticity was later brought into question, claimed that Muskie had made disparaging remarks about French-Canadians. Subsequently, the paper published an attack on the character of Muskie's wife Jane, reporting that she drank and used off-color language. 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. Muskie did worse than expected in the primary, while McGovern came in a surprisingly close second. McGovern now had the momentum, which was well orchestrated by his campaign manager, Gary Hart.

Alabama Governor George Wallace, with his "outsider" image, did well in the South (he won every single county in the Floridamarker primary) and in the North among alienated and dissatisfied voters. What might have become a forceful campaign was cut short when Wallace was shot while campaigning, and left paralyzed in an assassination attempt by Arthur Bremer. The day after the assassination attempt Wallace won the Michiganmarker and Marylandmarker primaries, but the shooting effectively ended his campaign.

In the end, Senator George McGovern succeeded in winning the nomination by winning primaries through grassroots 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. 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:

Notable endorsements

1972 Democratic National Convention


The vice presidential vote

With hundreds of delegates either actively supporting Nixon or angry at McGovern for one reason or another, the vote was chaotic, with at least three other candidates having their names put into nomination and votes scattered over 70 candidates. The eventual winner was Senator Thomas Eagleton, who accepted the nomination despite not personally knowing McGovern very well, and privately disagreeing with many of McGovern's policies.

The vice presidential balloting went on so long that McGovern and Eagleton were forced to make their acceptance speeches at around three in the morning, 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. McGovern initially claimed that he would back Eagleton “1000 percent,” only to ask Eagleton to withdraw three days later. This perceived indecisiveness was disastrous for the McGovern campaign.

After a week in which six prominent Democrats publicly refused the vice presidential nomination, Sargent Shriver, brother-in-law to John, Robert and Ted Kennedy, former Ambassador to France and former Director of the Peace Corps, finally accepted. 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.

Republican nomination

Republican candidates:

Candidates gallery

Image:Nixon 30-0316a.jpg|President Richard Nixon of CaliforniamarkerImage:JohnMAshbrook.jpg|Representative John Ashbrook of OhiomarkerImage:Paul_McCloskey.gif|Representative Pete McCloskey of Californiamarker


Richard Nixon was a popular incumbent president in 1972, as he seemed to have reached détente with the People's Republic of Chinamarker and the Soviet Unionmarker. He shrugged off the first glimmers of what, after the election, became the Watergate scandal.

Polls showed that Nixon held a strong lead in the Republican primaries. He was challenged by two minor candidates, liberal Pete McCloskey of Californiamarker and conservative John Ashbrook of Ohiomarker. McCloskey ran as an anti-war and anti-Nixon candidate, while Ashbrook opposed Nixon's détente policies towards the Chinamarker and the Soviet Unionmarker. In the New Hampshire primary McCloskey's platform of peace garnered 11% of the vote to Nixon's 83%, with Ashbrook receiving 6%. Nixon won 1323 of the 1324 delegates to the Republican convention, with McCloskey receiving the vote of one delegate from New Mexicomarker.

Primary results

Primaries popular vote result:


Seven members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War were brought on federal charges for conspiring to disrupt the Republican convention. They were acquitted by a federal jury in Gainesvillemarker, Floridamarker.

Third parties

The only major third party candidate in the 1972 election was conservative Republican Representative John G. Schmitz, who ran on the American Party ticket (the party on whose ballot George Wallace ran in 1968). He was on the ballot in 32 states and received 1,099,482 votes. Unlike Wallace, however, he did not win a majority of votes cast in any state, and received no electoral votes.

John Hospers of the newly-formed Libertarian Party was on the ballot only in Coloradomarker and Washingtonmarker and received 3,573 votes, winning no states. However, he did receive one electoral vote from Virginiamarker from a Republican faithless elector (see below). The Libertarian vice presidential nominee Theodora Nathalia Nathan became the first woman in U.S. history to receive an electoral vote.

Linda Jenness was nominated by the Socialist Workers Party, with Andrew Pulley as her running-mate. Benjamin Spock and Julius Hobson were nominated for president and vice president respectively by the People's Party.

General election


Richard Nixon during the campaign

George McGovern ran on a platform of ending the Vietnam War and instituting guaranteed minimum incomes for the nation's poor. His campaign was greatly crippled because of the electro-shock therapy controversy involving his original running mate, and because his views during the primaries had alienated many powerful Democrats. With McGovern's presence weakened by these factors, the Republicans successfully portrayed him as a half-crazy radical, and McGovern suffered a landslide defeat of 61%–38% to Nixon.

[[Image:1972prescountymap2.PNG|thumb|right|400px|Election results by county.
Richard Nixon, who has been called "the greatest school desegregator in American history" by historian Dean Kotlowski due to his compliance with a 1971 Supreme Court ruling mandating desegregation,Kotlowski, Dean J. (2001), p. 37 was in favor of desegregation but not through forced means such as busing. Nixon ran a 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 would eventually destroy his public support and lead to his resignation. Also, Nixon's so-called "southern strategy" of reducing the pressure for school desegregation and otherwise restricting federal efforts on behalf of blacks had a powerful attraction to northern blue-collar workers as well as southerners. McGovern called the Watergate burglaries "the kind of thing you expect under a person like Hitler."

The election was held on November 7. 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.

Nixon's percentage of the popular vote was only slightly less than Lyndon Johnson's record in the 1964 election, and his margin of victory was slightly larger. Nixon won a majority vote in 49 states (including McGovern's home state of South Dakotamarker), with only Massachusettsmarker and the District of Columbiamarker voting for the challenger, resulting in an even more lopsided Electoral College tally.


Source (Popular Vote):Source (Electoral Vote):(a)A Virginiamarker faithless elector, Roger MacBride, though pledged to vote for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, instead voted for Libertarian candidates John Hospers and Theodora Nathan.

(b)In Arizonamarker, Pima and Yavapai counties had a ballot malfunction that counted many votes for both a major party candidate and Linda Jenness of the Socialist Workers Party. A court ordered that the ballots be counted for both. As a consequence, Jenness received 16% and 8% of the vote in Pima and Yavapai, respectively. 30,579 of her 30,945 Arizona votes are from those two counties. Some sources do not count these votes for Jenness.

Corporate campaign contributions

As part of the continuing investigation in 1974-75, Watergate scandal prosecutors offered companies that had given illegal campaign contributions to Nixon's re-election campaign lenient sentences if they came forward. Many companies complied, including Northrup-Grunman, 3M, American Airlines and Braniff Airlines. By 1976, prosecutors had convicted 18 American corporations of contributing illegally to Nixon's campaign.


  • From 1960 to the present day, this was the only Presidential election in which Minnesota voted for a Republican.
  • The 1972 election was the first in American history in which a Republican candidate carried every Southern state. Arkansasmarker was the last Southern state to go Republican; prior to 1972, Arkansas was carried by a non-Democrat only twice: 1872 (by Republican Ulysses S. Grant) and 1968 (by third-party candidate George Wallace). Nixon carried Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia in 1968, and Barry Goldwater carried Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina in 1964. All of Goldwater's states except South Carolina went to Wallace in 1968.
  • Alice Cooper (Vincent Damon Furnier) of the Alice Cooper Band participated in the election of 1972 as a publicity stunt to promote the group's album "Billion Dollar Babies", which was due to be released in 1973. Though the shock rock band received few votes, their campaign song "Elected" became a hit.
  • After the resignation of Nixon following the Watergate scandal, a bumper sticker became popular: "Don't blame me - I'm from Massachusetts".
  • The 1972 election was the first election since 1808, in which New York didn't have the highest number of electors in the Electoral College.

See also


External links

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