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United States Presidential Election, 1972 (For Want of Sobriety)

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United States presidential election, 1972
November 7, 1972
Richard Nixon Edmund Muskie
Nominee Richard Nixon Edmund Muskie
Party Republican Democratic
Home state California Maine
Running mate Spiro Agnew Henry "Scoop" Jackson
Electoral vote 428 110
States carried 42 9 + D.C
Percentage 55.5% 43.2%
Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Nixon/Agnew (41), Blue denotes those won by Muskie/Jackson (9).
President before election
Richard Nixon
Elected President
Richard Nixon

The United States presidential election of 1972 was the 48th quadrennial United States presidential election. It was held on November 7, 1972. The Democratic Party's nomination was eventually won by Senator Edmund Muskie, the party's Vice-presidential nominee in 1968, who ran an anti-war campaign against incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon, but was defeated.

Emphasizing a good economy and his successes in foreign affairs (especially ending American involvement in Vietnam and establishing relations with China), Nixon was re-elected in a landslide, with 55% of the popular vote and 428 electoral college votes. Muskie maintained a base of support from electoral votes of North Eastern and Midwestern states, as well as Washington.

Democratic Nomination

Democratic candidates:

  • George McGovern, Senator from South Dakota
  • Hubert Humphrey, former Vice President from Minnesota
  • George Wallace, Governor of Alabama
  • Edmund Muskie, Senator from Maine
  • Eugene J. McCarthy, former Senator from Minnesota
  • Henry M. Jackson, Senator from Washington
  • Shirley Chisholm, Representative from New York
  • Terry Sanford, former Governor of North Carolina
  • John Lindsay, Mayor of New York City, New York
  • Vance Hartke, Senator from Indiana
  • Fred Harris, Senator from Oklahoma


Senate Majority Whip Ted Kennedy, the youngest brother of former President John F. Kennedy and former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had been the favorite to win the 1972 nomination, but he had announced he would not be a candidate.

The favorite for the Democratic nomination then became Ed Muskie,[2] the 1968 vice-presidential nominee.

New York Representative Shirley Chisholm announced she would run, and became the first African American to run for the Democratic or Republican presidential nomination. Hawaii Representative Patsy Mink also announced she would run and became the first Asian American to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

South Dakota Senator George McGovern entered the race as an anti-war, progressive candidate, picking up where Eugene McCarthy had left off in 1968. McGovern was able to pull together support from the anti-war movement and other grassroots support to make a considerable showing in a primary system he had played a significant part in designing.

Alabama Governor George Wallace, with his anti-integrationist image, did well in the South (he won every single county in the Florida primary) and in the North among alienated and dissatisfied voters.

In the end, Senator Edmund Muskie succeeded in winning the nomination with victories in the early primaries that built momentum for his campaign. Due to the work of Senator George McGovern, who had led a commission to redesign the Democratic nomination system after the divisive nomination struggle and convention of 1968, the primaries allowed Muskie to eventually grasp victory, finally defeating Senator Henry Jackson. The fundamental principle of the McGovern Commission—that the Democratic primaries should determine the winner of the Democratic nomination—have lasted throughout every subsequent nomination contest.

1972 Democratic National Convention

At the Democratic National convention in Miami, Muskie was easily nominated on the first ballot. After brief consideration, Senator Henry Jackson, who was the chief opponent of Muskie in the nomination fight, was tapped for the vice-presidential nomination.

Edmund Muskie – 1644.95 Henry M. Jackson – 525 George Wallace – 381.7 George McGovern - 220 Shirley Chisholm – 151.95 Terry Sanford – 77.5 Hubert Humphrey – 66.7 Wilbur Mills – 33.8 Ted Kennedy – 12.7 Sam Yorty – 10

Republican Nomination

Republican Candidates:

  • Richard Nixon, President of the United States
  • Pete McCloskey, Representative from California
  • John M. Ashbrook, Representative from Ohio


Richard Nixon was a popular incumbent president in 1972, as he seemed to have reached détente with the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. Polls showed that Nixon held a strong lead in the Republican primaries. He was challenged by two candidates, liberal Pete McCloskey of California and conservative John Ashbrook of Ohio. McCloskey ran as an anti-war candidate, while Ashbrook opposed Nixon's détente policies towards China and the Soviet Union. In the New Hampshire primary McCloskey 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 Mexico.

Republican National Convention

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 Gainesville, Florida.

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 Colorado and Washington and received 3,573 votes, winning no states. However, he did receive one electoral vote from Virginia 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.

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.

General Election

Edmund Muskie ran on a platform of ending the Vietnam War and instituting guaranteed minimum incomes for the nation's poor. His campaign was greatly boosted by the presence of Henry Jackson on the ticket who was widely viewed as a foreign policy hawk.

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, 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.

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. It was also the first election since 1808 in which New York did not have the largest number of electors in the Electoral College.

Nixon's percentage of the popular vote was comparable to that of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1956 election, and his electoral margin of victory was also similar. Nixon won a majority vote in 42 states, including Senator George McGovern's home state of South Dakota, which has voted for Republican candidates in presidential elections since 1968, currently one the longest times of any state voting for the Republicans.

It was the first time in American history in which a Republican candidate carried every Southern state. By this time, all the Southern states except Arkansas had been carried by a Republican in either the previous election, or the 1964 election.

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