The Election of the President Throughout U.S. History
Part 7: 1956 to 1980
The Election of 1956
The Korean War had ended, but Western forces were struggling against Communist forces in Southeast Asia in what would become the Vietnam War.
This was the first presidential campaign to make wide use of television ads. Eisenhower had been in poor health during his term, and the Democratic campaign tried to make this an issue. However, Eisenhower had also helped bring an end to the Korean War and was still very popular for his role in helping end World War II.
The result was a rerun of the 1952 result, with Eisenhower gaining more votes in both the popular and electoral tallies. The final electoral result was 457–73.
This was the last election in which one of the two major parties nominated the same (non-President) candidate for President in two consecutive elections.
The Election of 1960
The Democratic candidate was Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy. TV again played a major role in this campaign, notably the televising of the presidential debates, the first to be televised. Kennedy benefited from an endorsement from famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Nixon suffered from not receiving an endorsement from Eisenhower.
This was one of the closest elections in history in terms of the popular vote. Final totals showed Kennedy with just 112,000 more than Nixon. The electoral tally, however, was more decisive: 303-219. (A few electoral votes (15) were cast Democratic Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia.) Nixon carried more states (26) than Kennedy (22), but Kennedy's states had more overall electoral votes.
The Election of 1964
The Republican Party nominated Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. The GOP standard-bearer didn't receive a lot of support from his party's establishment. He also had a habit of saying things that would come back to haunt him, one example being his statement not disavowing the use of tactical nuclear weapons in the war in Vietnam (where American forces were increasingly fighting against both Communist forces and Viet Cong). Johnson's campaign turned this statement into one of the most famous election campaign TV commercials ever.
In the end, Johnson scored a massive victory in both popular and electoral tallies, outdistancing Goldwater by more than 15 million popular and votes and securing an electoral tally of 486-52.With the inclusion of the District of Columbia in this election, the Electoral College total was set at 538. It has not changed.
The Election of 1968
Opposing him was former Vice-president Richard Nixon, who had won the nomination after something of a political comeback, vowing never to run for political office again (but changing his mind).
The other high-profile candidate was Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who ran on the American Independent ticket; Wallace's major issue was opposition to racial segregation, which was a very hot topic across the country, especially in Southern states.
In the end, Humphrey wore much of the blame for the continued unrest in the country. Nixon won a close popular vote tally, besting Humphrey by less than 600,000 votes. The electoral difference was starker, with Nixon winning 301-191. Wallace won five southern states and 46 electoral votes.
The Election of 1972
After a contentious primary campaign, former Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota emerged with the Democratic Party nomination, besting, among others, Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson's Vice-president and the 1968 nominee.
The President ran for re-election and enjoyed large amounts of support in opinion polls throughout the campaign. McGovern, already running behind in the polls, saw his stock further diminish when he had to replace his vice-presidential candidate directly after the national convention.
In the end, Nixon won an overwhelming victory, capturing 49 states, including McGovern's home state of South Dakota. The Democrat won Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, totaling 17 electoral votes, to 520 for Nixon. (One Virginia elector cast a ballot for another candidate entirely.)
The Election of 1976
Nixon resigned in 1974. His Vice-president, Spiro Agnew, had resigned in 1972 after being convicted of tax evasion. Agnew's replacement, Gerald Ford, assumed the presidency when Nixon resigned and ran for re-election in 1976.
The country was also in the middle of a recession, with high energy prices and social unrest. President Ford had also issued a federal pardon for former President Richard Nixon, meaning that Nixon could not be prosecuted for any crimes he may have committed as President.
Ford's Democratic opponent was Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, who was relatively unknown nationally before the primary season. Carter took advantage of the country's dissatisfaction with Ford and the economy and the lingering shadow of Watergate and won a narrow election, 297-240. (One Washington elector voted for another candidate entirely.)
Ford actually won more states, but the electoral totals of those 27 states was less than Carter won for carrying 23 states and D.C.
The Election of 1980
Carter, running for re-election, struggled against the perception that he was unable to solve the country's problems. He also signed off on a risky hostage rescue effort that ended in a helicopter crash without ever reaching Iran. A recession was about to begin as well.
His Republican challenger was former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, who had nearly wrested the nomination from Ford in 1976.
Reagan proved very popular and convinced millions of voters that it was time for a change. He won eight million more popular votes than Carter, resulting in an electoral landslide of 489-49.
Third-party candidate John Anderson, running as an Independent, won nearly six million votes, but giving all of those votes to Carter wouldn't have won him re-election.