United States presidential election, 1968

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Map of electoral votes

The 1968 election saw the election of Republican Richard M. Nixon, the failure of the New Deal Coalition, which had dominated national politics since 1932, and the collapse of the Fifth Party System.


Incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson, a liberal Democrat, was highly unpopular of urban riots, growing tax revolts, dissatisfaction with his grandiose Great Society and his mishandling of the Vietnam War.

LBJ did poorly in the New Hampshire Primary in the face of little-known Senator Eugene McCarthy. With Senator Robert Kennedy also breaking away, and Alabama Governor George C. Wallace setting up a third party effort that attracted most southern Democrats and many northern ethnics, Johnson had lost control of his party and the national agenda. He pulled out of the race.

Time May 3, 1968

Humphrey & Democrats

Robert Kennedy won the important California Primary on June 5, 1968, but that evening he was assassinated by an Arab. With the assassination of Kennedy, a leading critic of Johnson's war policy, the new frontrunner, Hubert Humphrey, was regarded as a war hawk who would continue Johnson's Vietnam War. Johnson dropped out of the race due to growing unpopularity of himself and the war, and George McGovern, whose name was placed in nomination at the convention, made himself heir of Bobby Kennedy's dovish stance.

Most states used closed caucuses and state conventions controlled by insiders and “party regulars” to select national delegates. Machine caucuses in several states accumulated enough delegates for Humphrey to win.

After the chaos of the convention, where Humphrey did not appear on any primary ballot and his general election defeat, Humphrey agreed to a reform commission and appointed one of his lieutenants, Donald Fraser, to co-chair the McGovern-Fraser Commission.


Time Oct 18, 1968; Air Force General Curtis LeMay was the VP nominee

Independent candidate Wallace ran in opposition to the Democratic policy of Civil Rights. 1968 was the first change in the political map of the United States; the 1964 Civil Rights act drove many working class rural white southerners into the arms of the Republican party but also created a loyal voting block among African-Americans, who have polled over 90% with the Democratic candidate for president in most elections since 1968.

The middle class suburban white southerners voted for Nixon, rejecting both Wallace's crude appeals and Humphrey's liberalism.

The race was very close. After an intense campaign, in the closing days Humphrey repudiated Johnson's policy on the Vietnam War, thus winning back some disaffected voters on the far-left. Meanwhile, his unions allies managed to undercut George Wallace's appeal to white ethnics. Once far behind Nixon, Humphrey almost caught up, but failed as the New Deal Coalition collapsed and the Fifth Party System ended.


Meanwhile, the Republicans nominated former Vice President Richard Nixon as their candidate, as California Governor Ronald Reagan decided not to fight for the nomination.


candidates popular vote electoral vote
Richard Nixon 31,770,237 301
Hubert Humphrey 31,270,533 191
George C. Wallace 9,906,141 46

Henning Blomen 52,588 0
Dick Gregory 47,097 0
Fred Halstead 41,300 0
Eldridge Cleaver 36,385 0



The Winner

Converse et al. (1969) assesses the significance of the 1968 presidential election using poll data from the sixth national presidential election survey conducted by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan. Many people were dissatisfied with Johnson but not with the Democratic Party. Their dissatisfaction was connected to the Vietnam War (though not for blacks), civil rights, and law and order. Humphrey, the choice of an older generation, suffered from identification with the Johnson administration. Wallace attracted many Richard Nixon-bound Democrats and thus was a threat to Nixon. McCarthy's popularity in the New Hampshire primary was a nondifferentiated anti-Johnson vote from which many voters went to Wallace. These were not, however, the hard-core McCarthyite followers. Wallace's success was the result of the voter's identification with his stand on the primary issues - continuing segregation, getting tough in Vietnam, and law and order. Wallace's supporters were rural and small town residents in the South and skilled labor in the North. They were disgusted with public policy and were often alienated from politics. Wallace won 5 states and 46 Electoral votes. The Wallace candidacy helped to bend American politics and politicians to conservatism.


  1. Clare Gibson, A Pictoral History of the U.S. Presidents 2001, p. 126.


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  • Chester, Lewis, Godfrey Hodgson and Bruce Page. An American Melodrama - The Presidential Campaign of 1968 (1969)
  • Converse, Philip E.; Miller, Warren E.; Rusk, Jerrold G.; Wolfe, Arthur C. "Continuity And Change In American Politics: Parties and Issues in the 1968 Election." American Political Science Review 1969 63(4): 1083-1105.
  • Herzog, Arthur. McCarthy for President (1969)
  • Lesher, Stephan. George Wallace: American Populist. (1994). 587 pp.
  • McCarthy, Eugene J. The Year of the People (1969), memoir
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  • Solberg, Carl. Hubert Humphrey (2003), scholarly biography excerpt and text search
  • Time. "Wallace's Army: The Coalition Of Frustration," Time Oct 18, 1968
  • Time. "Nixon's Hard-Won Chance to Lead" Time Nov 15, 1968
  • White, Theodore H. The Making of the President, 1968 (1970), sophisticated reporting