United States presidential election, 1968
election_name = United States presidential election, 1968
country = United States
type = presidential
ongoing = no
previous_election = United States presidential election, 1964
previous_year = 1964
next_election = United States presidential election, 1972
next_year = 1972
election_date = November 5, 1968
party1 = Republican Party (United States)
home_state1 = California
electoral_vote1 = 301
states_carried1 = 32
popular_vote1 = 31,783,783
percentage1 = 43.4%
party2 = Democratic Party (United States)
electoral_vote2 = 191
states_carried2 = 13+DC
popular_vote2 = 31,271,839
percentage2 = 42.7%
party3 = American Independent Party
electoral_vote3 = 46
states_carried3 = 5
popular_vote3 = 9,901,118
percentage3 = 13.5%
map_size = 400px
map_caption = Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Nixon/Agnew, Blue denotes those won by Humphrey/Muskie. Orange denotes states won by Wallace/LeMay, as well as a faithless elector from North Carolina who cast his electoral vote for Wallace/LeMay instead of Nixon/Agnew. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.
title = President
before_election = Lyndon Johnson
before_party = Democratic Party (United States)
after_party = Republican Party (United States)The United States presidential election of 1968 was a wrenching national experience, and included the assassination of Democratic candidate Robert F. Kennedy, the assassination of civil rights leader
Martin Luther King, Jr.and subsequent race riotsacross the nation, the violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and widespread demonstrations against the Vietnam Waracross American university and college campuses. The election also featured a strong third-party effort by former Alabama governor George Wallace; although Wallace's campaign was frequently accused of promoting racism, he would prove to be a formidable candidate; no third-party candidate has won an entire state's electoral votessince. In the end, Republican Richard M. Nixonnarrowly won the election over Democrat Hubert H. Humphreyon a campaign promise to restore "law and order". The election of 1968 was a realigning electionthat ended the Democratic realignment started by Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.
In the election of 1964, after serving the 14 remaining months after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, Democrat
Lyndon Johnsonhad won the largest popular vote landslide in US Presidential election history over Republican Barry Goldwater. During his term, Johnson had seen many political successes, including the passage of his sweeping Great Societydomestic programs (also known as the "War on Poverty"), landmark civil rightslegislation, and the continued exploration of space. At the same time, however, the country had experienced large-scale race riotsin the streets of its larger cities, along with a generational revolt of young people and violent debates over foreign policy. The emergence of the hippie counterculture, the rise of New Left activism, and the emergence of the Black Powermovement exacerbated social and cultural cleavages between classes, generations and races. Every summer during Johnson's administration, known thereafter as the "long, hot summers", major U.S. cities erupted in massive race riotsthat left hundreds dead or injured and destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars in property. Adding to the national tension, on April 4, 1968, civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.was assassinated in Memphis, Tennesseesparking further mass rioting and chaos, including Washington, D.C., where rioting came within just a few blocks of the White House.
A major factor in the precipitous decline of President Johnson's popularity was the
Vietnam War, which he greatly escalated during his time in office. By late 1967 over 500,000 American soldiers were fighting in Vietnam and suffering thousands of casualties every month. Johnson was especially hurt when, despite his repeated assurances that the war was being "won", the American news mediabegan to show just the opposite. The Tet Offensiveof February 1968, in which Communist Vietcongforces launched major attacks on several large cities in South Vietnam, led to increased criticism from antiwar activists that the war was unwinnable. The Johnson Administration was particularly damaged during the Tet Offensive when Vietcong forces managed to infiltrate the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital, before being killed by U.S. troops in a fierce struggle captured on national television. In response to the Tet Offensive, the U.S. military claimed that the war could only be won by adding several hundred thousand more soldiers to the American forces already in South Vietnam. In the months following Tet, Johnson's approval ratings fell below 35%, and the Secret Service refused to let the President make public appearances on the campuses of American colleges and universities, due to his extreme unpopularity among college students. The Secret Service also prevented Johnson from appearing at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, because of their fear that his appearance might cause riots.
Democratic Party nomination
Hubert H. Humphrey, U.S. Vice President from Minnesota
Robert F. Kennedy, U.S. senator from New Yorkand former Attorney General( assassinated)
Eugene J. McCarthy, U.S. senator from Minnesota
George S. McGovern, U.S. senator from South Dakota
Lyndon B. Johnson, U.S. President from Texas
Enter Eugene McCarthy
Lyndon B. Johnsonhad served during two presidential terms, the 22nd Amendmentdid not disqualify Johnson from running for another term, because he had only served 14 months following John F. Kennedy's assassination before being elected to his "second" term in 1964. As a result, it was widely assumed when 1968 began that President Johnson would run for another term, and that he would have little trouble winning the Democratic nomination.
Despite the growing opposition to Johnson's policies in Vietnam, no prominent Democratic candidate was prepared to run against a sitting President of his own party. Even Senator
Robert F. Kennedyof New York, an outspoken critic of Johnson's policies with a large base of support, initially refused to run against Johnson in the primaries. Only Senator Eugene McCarthyof Minnesotaproved willing to challenge Johnson openly. Running as an antiwar candidate in the New Hampshire primary, McCarthy hoped to pressure the Democrats into publicly opposing the Vietnam War. Normally, an incumbent president faces little formidable opposition within his own party. However, McCarthy, although he was trailing badly in the national polls, decided to pour most of his resources into New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary election. He was boosted by thousands of young college students led by youth coordinator Sam Brown , who shaved their beards and cut their hair to be "Clean for Gene." These students organized get-out-the-vote drives, rang doorbells and distributed McCarthy buttons and leaflets, and worked hard in New Hampshire for McCarthy. On March 12, McCarthy won 42% of the primary vote to Johnson's 49%, an amazingly strong showing for such a challenger, and one which gave McCarthy's campaign legitimacy and momentum. The momentum ended, however, when Senator Kennedy announced his candidacy four days later, on March 16, as McCarthy supporters cried betrayal and vowed to defeat Kennedy. Thereafter McCarthy and Kennedy would engage in an increasingly bitter series of state primaries; although Kennedy won most of the primaries, he could never shake McCarthy and his devoted following of antiwar activists, which included many Hollywoodcelebrities such as Paul Newman, Gene Wilder, Barbra Streisand, and Burt Lancaster.
On March 31, 1968, following the New Hampshire primary and Kennedy's entry into the election, the President addressed the nation in a televised speech in which he announced that he was suspending all bombing of North Vietnam. Johnson concluded his speech and startled the nation by announcing "I shall not seek, nor will accept, the nomination of my party for another term as President." (Not discussed publicly at the time was Johnson's concern that he might not survive another term—Johnson's health was poor, and he had suffered a serious heart attack in 1955. In fact, Johnson died in January 1973 just four years after leaving office.) Bleak political forecasts also contributed to Johnson's withdrawal: internal polling by Johnson's campaign in
Wisconsin, the next state to hold a primary election, showed the President trailing badly, and in fact he lost the primary to McCarthy. With Johnson's withdrawal, the Democratic Party quickly split into four factions, each of which distrusted the other three.
* The first faction comprised labor unions and big-city party bosses (led by Mayor
Richard J. Daley). This group had traditionally controlled the Democratic Party since the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and they feared their loss of control over the party. After Johnson's withdrawal this group rallied to support Hubert H. Humphrey, Johnson's Vice President; it was also believed that President Johnson himself was covertly supporting Humphrey, despite his public claims of neutrality.
* The second faction, which rallied behind Senator McCarthy, was composed of college students, intellectuals, and upper-middle-class whites who had been the early activists against the war in Vietnam; they perceived themselves as the future of the Democratic Party.
* The third group was primarily composed of
Catholics, African-Americans, and other racial and ethnic minorities as well as several antiwar groups; these groups rallied behind Senator Robert Kennedy.
* The fourth group consisted of conservative white Southern Democrats, or "
Dixiecrats". Some members of this group (probably older ones remembering the New Deal's positive impact upon rural areas) supported Vice President Humphrey, but many of them would rally behind George C. Wallaceand the Alabama governor's third-party campaign in the general election.
Since the Vietnam War had become the major issue that was dividing the Democratic Party, and Johnson had come to symbolize the war for many liberal Democrats, Johnson believed that he could not win the nomination without a major struggle, and that he would probably lose the election in November to the Republicans. However, by withdrawing from the race he could avoid the stigma of defeat, and he could keep control of the party machinery by giving the nomination to Humphrey, who had been a loyal Vice President. As the year developed, it also became clear that Johnson believed he could secure his place in the history books by ending the war before the election in November, thus giving Humphrey the boost he would need to win. [Dallek (1998); Woods (2006); Gould (1993).]
Contest for the Democratic nomination
After Johnson's withdrawal, Vice President
Hubert Humphreyannounced his candidacy. Kennedy was successful in four primaries and McCarthy five; however, in primaries where they campaigned directly against one another, Kennedy won three primaries and McCarthy one. Humphrey did not compete in the primaries, leaving that job to favorite sons who were his surrogates, notably Senator George A. Smathersfrom Florida, Senator Stephen M. Youngfrom Ohio, and Governor Roger D. Braniginof Indiana. Instead, Humphrey concentrated on winning the delegates in non-primary states, where party leaders such as Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley controlled the delegate votes in their states. Kennedy defeated Branigin and McCarthy in the Indiana primary, and then defeated McCarthy in the Nebraska primary. However, McCarthy upset Kennedy in the Oregon primary.
After Kennedy's defeat in Oregon, the California primary was seen as crucial to both Kennedy and McCarthy. McCarthy stumped the state's many colleges and universities, where he was treated as a hero for being the first presidential candidate to oppose the war. Kennedy campaigned in the ghettos and
barrios of the state's larger cities, where he was mobbed by enthusiastic supporters. Kennedy and McCarthy engaged in a television debate a few days before the election; it was generally considered a draw. On June 4 Kennedy narrowly defeated McCarthy in California, 46%–42%. However, McCarthy refused to withdraw from the race and made it clear that he would contest Kennedy in the upcoming New Yorkprimary, where McCarthy had much support from antiwar activists in New York City. The New York primary quickly became a moot point, however, for in the early morning of June 5, Kennedy was shot shortly after midnight; he died twenty-six hours later. Kennedy had just given his victory speech in a crowded ballroom of the Ambassador Hotelin Los Angeles; he and his aides squeezed into a kitchen on their way to another ballroom to celebrate their victory. In the kitchen Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a young Palestinianmilitant who disliked Kennedy for his support of the state of Israel.
Political historians have debated to this day whether Kennedy could have won the Democratic nomination had he lived. Some historians, such as
Theodore H. Whiteand Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., have argued that Kennedy's broad appeal and famed " charisma" would have convinced the party bosses at the Democratic Convention to give him the nomination. Jack Newfield, author of "RFK: A Memoir", stated in a 1998 interview that on the night he was assassinated, " [Kennedy] had a phone conversation with Mayor Daley of Chicago, and Mayor Daley all but promised to throw the Illinois delegates to Bobby at the convention in August 1968. I think he said to me, and Pete Hamil, 'Daley is the ball game, and I think we have Daley.'" [Jack Newfield, interview with Terry Gross, "Fresh Air from WHYY", National Public Radio, WHYY, Philadelphia, June 4, 1998. [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91151292 Except] rebroadcast on June 4, 2008.] However, other writers such as Tom Wicker, who covered the Kennedy campaign for " The New York Times", believe that Humphrey's large lead in delegate votes from non-primary states, combined with Senator McCarthy's refusal to quit the race, would have prevented Kennedy from ever winning a majority at the Democratic Convention, and that Humphrey would have been the Democratic nominee even if Kennedy had lived. Journalist Richard Reeveshas written that Humphrey was the likely nominee, and RFK's own campaign manager, future Democratic National Committee chairman Larry O'Brien, wrote in his memoirs that Kennedy's chances of winning the nomination had been slim, even after his win in California.
At the moment of RFK's death, the delegate totals were:
Robert F. Kennedy393
Only 13 states held a primary at this time (
California, Oregon, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshireand Florida).
Results by winners [ [http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Rhodes/3991/Dem1968.html Primaries, caucuses and conventions: Classic races for the presidential nomination ] ] :
Robert F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Stephen M. Young
Total popular vote [ [http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=47021 Our Campaigns - US President - D Primaries Race - Mar 12, 1968 ] ] :
Eugene McCarthy: 2,914,933 (38.73%)
Robert F. Kennedy: 2,305,148 (30.63%)
Stephen M. Young: 549,140 (7.30%)
Lyndon B. Johnson: 383,590 (5.10%)
Thomas C. Lynch: 380,286 (5.05%)
Roger D. Branigin: 238,700 (3.17%)
George Smathers: 236,242 (3.14%)
Hubert Humphrey: 166,463 (2.21%)
* Unpledged: 161,143 (2.14%)
* Scott Kelly: 128,899 (1.71%)
George Wallace: 34,489 (0.46%)
Richard Nixon(write-in): 13,610 (0.18%)
Ronald Reagan(write-in): 5,309 (0.07%)
Ted Kennedy: 4,052 (0.05%)
Paul C. Fisher: 506 (0.01%)
John G. Crommelin: 186 (0.00%)
Democratic Convention and antiwar protests
Robert Kennedy's death altered the dynamics of the race, and threw the Democratic Party into disarray. Although Humphrey appeared the prohibitive favorite for the nomination, thanks to his support from the traditional power blocs of the party, he was an unpopular choice with many of the
antiwarelements within the party, who identified him with Johnson's controversial position on the Vietnam War. However, Kennedy's delegates failed to unite behind a single candidate who could have prevented Humphrey from getting the nomination. Some of Kennedy's support went to McCarthy, but many of Kennedy's delegates, remembering their bitter primary battles with McCarthy, refused to vote for him. Instead, these delegates rallied around the late-starting candidacy of Senator George McGovernof South Dakota, a Kennedy supporter in the spring primaries who had presidential ambitions himself. This dividing of the antiwar votes at the Democratic Convention made it easier for Humphrey to gather the delegates he needed to win the nomination.
1968 Democratic National Conventionopened in Chicago, thousands of young activists from around the nation gathered in the city to protest the Vietnam War. In a clash which was covered on live television, Americans were shocked to see Chicago police brutally beating antiwar protesters in the streets of Chicago. While the protesters chanted "The whole world's watching," the police used clubs and tear gas to beat back the protesters, leaving many of them bloody and dazed. The tear gas even wafted into numerous hotel suites; in one of them Vice President Humphrey was watching the proceedings on television. Meanwhile, the convention itself was marred by the strong-arm tactics of Chicago's mayor Richard J. Daley(who was seen on television angrily cursing Senator Abraham Ribicoffof Connecticut, who made a speech at the convention denouncing the excesses of the Chicago police in the riots). In the end, the nomination itself was anticlimactic, with Vice President Humphrey handily beating McCarthy and McGovern on the first ballot. The convention then chose Senator Edmund Muskieof Maineas Humphrey's running mate. However, the tragedy of the antiwar riots crippled Humphrey's campaign from the start, and it never fully recovered. [White, pgs. 377–378; [http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=58481] ] Before 1968 the city of Chicago had been a frequent host for the political conventions of both parties; since 1968 only once has a national convention been held in the city (in 1996, the Democrats held their convention for Bill Clintonthere). Many believe that this is due in part to the violence and chaos of the Democratic Convention that year.
Source: "Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report." “Group Analysis of the 1968 Presidential Vote” XXVI, No. 48 (November 1968), p. 3218.
Voter demographics in the South
Source: "Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report." “Group Analysis of the 1968 Presidential Vote”, XXVI, No. 48 (November 1968), p. 3218.
*This is the most recent presidential election in which any third party candidate won at least one state in the Electoral College.
United States House election, 1968
United States Senate election, 1968
History of the United States (1964–1980)
History of the United States Democratic Party
History of the United States Republican Party
President of the United States
List of Presidents of the United States
*White, Theodore H., "The Making of the President 1968". Pocket Books, 1970.
* Brown, Stuart Gerry. "The Presidency on Trial: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Campaign and Afterwards." U. Press of Hawaii, 1972. 155 pp.
* Burner, David and West, Thomas R. "The Torch Is Passed: The Kennedy Brothers and American Liberalism." (1984). 307 pp.
* Gallup, George H., ed. "The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935-1971". 3 vols. Random House, 1972. press releases
* Kimball, Warren F. "The Election of 1968." "Diplomatic History" 2004 28(4): 513–528. ISSN 0145-2096 Fulltext online in SwetsWise, Ingenta and Ebsco. Comments by others at pp. 563–576; reply, p. 577.
* Jamieson, Patrick E. "Seeing the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency through the March 31, 1968 Withdrawal Speech." "Presidential Studies Quarterly" Vol 29#1 1999 pp. 134+
* LaFerber, Walter. "The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election" (2005) short survey
* Eugene McCarthy, "The Year of the People" (1969), memoir
* Jeff Shesol, "Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade" (1997)
* Woods, Randall. "LBJ: Architect of American Ambition" (2006)
* [http://geoelections.free.fr/USA/elec_comtes/1968.htm 1968 popular vote by counties]
* [http://psephos.adam-carr.net/countries/u/usa/pres/1968.txt 1968 popular vote by states]
* [http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/datagraph.php?year=1968&fips=0&f=1&off=0&elect=0 1968 popular vote by states (with bar graphs)]
* [http://www.msu.edu/~sheppa28/elections.html#1968 How close was the 1968 election?] - Michael Sheppard, Michigan State University
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