Sabatos Crystal Ball

1972 Presidential Election

UVA Center for Politics January 1st, 2008


With 15 competitors for the nomination, the Democrats had a marathon of primaries in the 1972 election. The early favorite was the former senator and vice-presidential nominee in 1968, Edmund Muskie from Maine. However, after reformations of party politics after the unsuccessful circus of the 1968 convention, the road to nomination was bound to be turbulent. Other solid contenders were Sens. George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey. Muskie later made some disconcerting comments and his reputation took a few blows, but did manage to win the first-ever New Hampshire primary. However, after the larger states, Sen. McGovern edged past all three candidates made possible by the new delegate allocation rules.

President Nixon and Vice President Agnew were renominated without missing a beat. The Republican campaign dominated the summer and fall polls. Nixon made an exhibition of his peace talks over the Vietnam War, diplomacy with China, and numerous domestic programs. However, Nixon’s downfall was his increasing paranoia and suspicion in politics. He considered he had been beaten unfairly by the charm of Kennedy and wanted to assure it did not happen again.

After deemed the more “moderate” of the nominees and acquiring the Democratic nomination, McGovern established his platform over issues like busing, social welfare and the Vietnam War to which he spoke adamantly against. His campaign hit off to a poor start being seriously damaged by the “Eagleton affair.” His running mate was Sen. Thomas Eagleton, and as rumors circulated that Eagleton had been suffering from nervous breakdowns and had been hospitalized various times, McGovern still confirmed that he “had no intention of dropping him.” However, less than two weeks later, Eagleton was removed from the ticket, and replaced by R. Sargent Shriver, former director of the Peace Corps.

Nixon won in a landslide, the Electoral College gave him 520 votes and only 17 for McGovern; also impressive, he landed 60.7 percent of the popular vote. The American confidence appeared strong on the surface, but the real trouble would brew in the to-be-discovered Watergate scandals two years later. One of, if not the, biggest political scandals in American history, Watergate was the only scandal that forced a president to resign before his term ended and resulted in an upset of voter confidence.