Sabatos Crystal Ball

1968 Presidential Election

UVA Center for Politics January 1st, 2008


By now, the main political focus was clear: in 1968, thirty thousand Americans had been killed in action in the Vietnam War and television had brought the war into almost every American home. Due to social conditions and the war, Republican policy was heavily favored, and unlike the Democrats, the Republicans came into the election with a solid campaign platform. The Democratic frontrunners included President Johnson and Sen. Eugene McCarthy. However after outlooks were grim in the early primaries, and rather save face than lose, President Johnson shocked many by announcing his withdrawal from the race in late March. Vice President Humphrey took his place. The Democratic platform was unsteady because the proposals to deal with the war divided many party leaders.

The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon with little contest. Outspending the vice president two to one, he had learned from his mistakes in 1960 and meticulously and carefully followed a script, staying away from his television nemesis. He promised Americans an end to the war, a more stable economy, and alleviation of racial tensions. His vice-president, Gov. Spiro Agnew of Maryland provided a viable option for a wide portion of the labor force, blue-collar America.

Also worth noting, Alabama Gov. George Wallace ran a sizeable third party campaign. He flailed against the bureaucracy, opposed desegregation, and taxes, appealing to the nations most conservative voters. His campaign was aggressive and even added to concerns that no candidate would win a majority in the electoral college.

The election proved to be a close and heated race. The results were not even completed and reported until the day after the election because California, Ohio, and Illinois all had very close counts, later all going to Nixon. With 60.7 percent of eligible voters voting, the popular results infer just how tight the race was, with 43.4 percent going to Nixon, 42.7 percent to Humphrey, and 13.5 percent to Wallace.

The lasting impact of the 1968 election was the reform of the nomination process. The Democratic Party adopted rules that made primaries their main nominating process (as opposed to continuing caucuses) and also prevented state committees from nominating more than 10 percent of the delegation.