The Elections of 1968 and 1972


Richard Nixon (301 Electoral Votes)
Hubert Humphrey (191 Electoral Votes)
George Wallace (46 Electoral Votes)

Richard Nixon (520 Electoral Votes)
George McGovern (17 Electoral Votes)

The 1968 presidential election was a wild campaign in a tumultuous year.  Vietnam, violence, protest, populism, civil rights, and civil strife were all part of the mix.  In 1968:

–Richard Nixon made his comeback from the political wilderness all the way to the White House.

–The incumbent president, winner of a landslide victory just four years before, was forced into a humiliating withdrawal by two unconventional challengers from his own party.

–The assassinations of a civil rights leader and a presidential candidate shook the country and the political process.

–The third party candidacy of George Wallace demonstrated the power of conservative populism and a politics of resentment.

–The Democratic Party tore itself apart at its Chicago convention, but then nearly came back to win the election.

–The three-way general election was one of the closest in history, and the winner had the smallest share of the popular vote since Woodrow Wilson in 1912.

Remarkably, 1968 ended with the first images taken by astronauts in orbit around the moon, including a picture they took by pointing their camera back toward a tranquil blue globe a quarter of a million miles away.

Nixon’s domestic policies in office were surprisingly liberal: His initiatives included the Environmental Protection Agency, generous cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security, and the Philadelphia plan for affirmative action (requiring “goals and timetables”).  His opening to China surprised both anti-communists and anti-anti-Communists, and probably pleased the latter more than the former.  But his conduct of the Vietnam War prolonged and intensified the country’s divisions.  In 1972, the Nixon political machine obliterated the anti-war and ultra-liberal candidacy of George McGovern, but set the stage for Nixon’s own downfall by treating dissent and political opposition as suspicious, even criminal, activities.

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