Sabatos Crystal Ball

1976 Presidential Election

UVA Center for Politics January 1st, 2008


The Democrats strengthened their majority in the 1974 midterm election due to the Watergate scandal and President Ford’s pardon of Nixon. This new Congress reorganized and undermined the seniority system that had directed Congress for years. This created a committee system that was more influenced by interest group politics than presidents and party leaders. Also noteworthy, the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971 limited both parties by requiring more detailed receipts and thus affecting their total expenditures.

The Republicans were split into two over candidates Gov. Reagan and President Ford. Ford had early wins, though Reagan did well in debates often with criticism of Ford foreign policy. Ford won the nomination in the end, selecting senator Bob Dole from Kansas as his running mate to appease the more conservative electorate.

Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter wanted to take advantage of the public’s discontent and ask for change in the 1976 election. Ronald Reagan ultimately added to the desire for change and the public’s need for another option other than Ford. Virtually unknown from the start, Carter’s strategy began with constructing strong organizations for the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus, which he inched by a victory with small margins. He built his campaign on his casual and honest approach which appealed to many voters.

After the Democratic convention, Carter held a substantial lead over Ford, but the election was still far from determined. There were small blunders in the Carter campaign, such as an interview with Playboy magazine and his vague statements about tax reform and abortion. Ford built his platform on the edge of his considerable experience in public service, 27 years, to Carter’s four as governor. The candidates also took the stage for the first televised debate since 1960. When election day finally came, it lead to Carter slipping away past Ford by 2.1 percent more of the popular vote, credited for his seizure of the South, labor, and minority vote. Jimmy Carter was elected the 39th president of the United states with 297 votes beating President Ford’s 240.