Candidate George Wallace Ronald Reagan Walter Fauntroy Jimmy Carter Nelson Rockefeller
Wallace color
Jimmy Carter
Nelson-Rockefeller-9461384-1-402 cropped
Party Democratic Republican Freedom and Justice Progressive National Union
Home State Alabama California Washington, DC Georgia New York
Positions Governor of Alabama Governor of California Congressman for Washington, DC Governor of Georgia Governor of New York
Running Mate Robert Byrd George Bush Shirley Chisholm Walter Mondale Gerald Ford
Percentage 36% 15% 9% 25% 15%
Prior Candidate Eugene McCarthy Nelson Rockefeller

Next Election: 1980

The United States presidential election of 1976 was the 48th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 2, 1976. In a massive, national division among 5 candidates with 5 distinct ideological platforms related to economic and social issues, George Wallace, a populist with liberal economic views and conservative social views, prevailed. This reflected the complexity of the issues of the time and Americans passion for them, involving the insurgency of blacks in the inner cities and rural swaths of the south, as well as massive economic depression that began in 1973.

The liberal, conservative, and moderate wings of both major parties were more polarized then ever in their own camps. The Democrats viewed incumbent Eugene McCarthy as a failure by the end of his second term, and both wings wanted to move in a more economically progressive direction. Northern Democrats wanted to implement new federal laws granting civil rights to African-Americans and create new social programs specifically targeted to them. Southern Democrats saw the violence as a deterrence away from civil rights, and whereas the liberals were disorganized, southerners rallied around George Wallace as a national populist, to crush the rebellion while fixing the economy in a sweeping way not seen since the days of Bryan and Smith. The liberals ultimately pushed for Jimmy Carter as their candidate, who as a moderate southerner himself could undercut Wallace's support. However, Carter's identification with the party liberals hurt him there anyway. Activists from all races and classes completely dissilusioned supported Walter Fauntroy, who actively campaigned for the Democratic nomination as well. With liberals split between Fauntroy and Carter, it was Wallace's populist appeal that clinched the nomination. Fauntroy and Carter immediately, in the summer of 1976, launched third-party campaigns (the Freedom and Justice Party and Progressive Party, respectively).

The Republicans were also in dissaray, not to the extent the Democrats were, yet their party was split by election day as well. The establishment picked conservative Ronald Reagan over the more moderate candidate Nelson Rockefeller. Reagan's popularity as a former actor and brillant speaker clashed with his completely dissilusionment to the times. His attitude was unrealistically somber and witty, and Rockefeller's acute understanding of national problems and pragmatic approach to analyzing them closed the gap between him and Reagan. Reagan narrowly won the nomination, and following in the foot-steps of Carter and Fauntroy, Rockefeller launched his own campaign, starting the National Union party. With five major candidates in the ring, any one of them was in sight of victory, needing only between 15 to 20 percent of the vote. 

It was the Solid South, with support from industrial areas of the north and west, that carried Wallace over the edge. No other candidate could count on an entire region like Wallace could. The blacks who supported Fauntroy were scattered, as were the moderates who supported Rockefeller. Jimmy Carter was utterly confused as to where he could count on a victory, and on election day had neither the north or south. Ronald Reagan won California and most of the West, but Wallace dug out the most votes across the country.

This is known as the most turbulent, chaotic election in American history, and would pave the way for the 1980 re-alignment.

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