The Election of 1976


Jimmy Carter (297 Electoral Votes)
Gerald Ford (240 Electoral Votes)

The 1976 election took place in the shadow of what Gerald Ford called “our long national nightmare.”  Ford, of course, was specifically referring to the agony of Watergate and the prolonged death throes of the Nixon administration.  The nightmare, however, had really begun with social divisions over civil rights and political strife over Vietnam.  Watergate, with its plumbers, wiretaps, enemies lists, and general dirty tricks, was the expression of the Nixon administration’s conviction that dissent and political opposition were illegitimate, and hence appropriate targets of police-like monitoring.  After Nixon, Gerald Ford was a calm and reassuring, if uninspiring (“Whip Inflation Now!”), president.  His pardon of Nixon, however, did little in the short run to heal the country’s wounds, especially since it was not accompanied by similar pardons for draft dodgers and other dissidents on the other side of the political and social divides.  Then along came Jimmy Carter with a promise of “a Government as good and as competent and as compassionate as… the American people.”   Ford fought off a strong challenge from Ronald Reagan in his own party, and was closing a huge gap in the polls when he said (in a presidential debate, no less), “I don’t believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union.”  Still, the vote was close, and only the South’s return to the Democratic fold to vote for a native son allowed Carter to squeak by.  Carter issued a limited pardon for draft dodgers on his first full day in office.

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