- United States presidential election, 1976
election_name = United States presidential election, 1976
country = United States
type = presidential
ongoing = no
previous_election = United States presidential election, 1972
previous_year = 1972
next_election = United States presidential election, 1980
next_year = 1980
election_date = November 2, 1976
party1 = Democratic Party (United States)
home_state1 = Georgia
electoral_vote1 = 297
states_carried1 = 23+DC
popular_vote1 = 40,831,881
percentage1 = 50.1%
party2 = Republican Party (United States)
electoral_vote2 = 240
states_carried2 = 27
popular_vote2 = 39,148,634
percentage2 = 48.0%
map_size = 350px
map_caption = Presidential election results map. Blue denotes states won by Carter/Mondale, Red denotes those won by Ford/Dole.
Ronald Reaganreceived one electoral vote from a " faithless elector" in Washington. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.
title = President
before_party = Republican Party (United States)
after_party = Democratic Party (United States)
The United States presidential election of 1976 followed the resignation of President
Richard M. Nixonin the wake of the Watergate scandal. It pitted incumbent President Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate, against the relatively unknown former governorof Georgia, Jimmy Carter, the Democratic candidate. Ford was saddled with a slow economyand paid a political price for his pardonof Nixon. Carter ran as a Washington "outsider" and reformer and won a narrow victory. He was the first president elected from the Deep Southsince 1848. Eugene McCarthy, a former Democratic Senator from Minnesota, ran as an independent candidate.
Democratic Party nomination
Because of the absence of any clear front-runner for the nomination, a record number of Democrats competed for their party's presidential nomination in 1976.
The 1976 campaign featured a record number of state primaries and caucuses. However, most of the Democratic candidates failed to realize the significance of the increased number of primaries, or the importance of creating momentum by winning the early contests. The one candidate who did see the opportunities in the new nominating system was
Jimmy Carter, a former state senator and governor of Georgia. Carter, who was relatively unknown outside of Georgia when the campaign began, realized that his "fresh face" could be an asset following the Watergate scandal and the public's subsequent disenchantment with Washington politicians. Furthermore, as a "New South" governor who had publicly supported school integration and had hired a record number of African-Americans to positions in the Georgia state government, Carter was free of the charge of being a segregationist, which had eliminated Southern candidates in previous elections.
Carter surprised most political
punditsby finishing second in the Iowa caucus behind "Uncommitted", and then by winning the New Hampshire primary, thus proving that a Southerner could win Northern states. He then eliminated his rivals one by one. In North Carolina he crushed George Wallace, his chief rival for Southern delegates. He defeated Washington Senator Henry M. Jacksonin the Pennsylvania primary, thus knocking him out of the race. In Wisconsin, Carter scored an impressive come-from-behind win over liberal Arizona Congressman Morris Udall, thus eliminating Udall as a serious contender. As Carter closed in on the nomination, an "ABC" (Anybody But Carter) movement started among some Northern and Western Democrats who feared that Carter might be too conservative for the party. The leaders of this movement were Idaho Senator Frank Churchand California Governor Jerry Brown. They entered several Western primaries and defeated Carter, but their candidacies started too late to prevent Carter from winning the nomination. They eventually supported Carter in the general election.
By the time the Democratic Convention opened in
New York City, Carter already had more than enough delegates to win the nomination, and so the major emphasis at the convention was to create an appearance of party unity, which had been lacking in the 1968 and 1972 Democratic Conventions. Carter easily won the nomination on the first ballot; he then chose Senator Walter Mondaleof Minnesota, a liberal and a protege of Hubert Humphrey, as his running mate.
Republican Party nomination
The contest for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1976 was between just two candidates:
Gerald Ford, the incumbent President of the United States; and Ronald Reagan, the popular leader of the GOP's conservative wing and the former two-term governor of California. The conservatives faulted Ford for the loss of South Vietnamto the Communists, his negotiations to hand over the Panama Canalto Panama, and for what they perceived as his failure to more aggressively confront the Soviet Unionin the Cold War. Since Ford had not won a national election as either Vice-President or President, he was viewed by many political experts as being unusually vulnerable for an incumbent President, and as not having a strong nationwide base of support. As such, many conservative Republicans believed that Reagan could beat him for the nomination.
Defying expectations, however, Ford narrowly defeated Reagan in the
New Hampshire primary, and then proceeded to beat Reagan in the Florida and Illinois primaries by comfortable margins. At this point Reagan's campaign ran low on money, and many pundits believed that another loss would force him to quit the race. However, Reagan upset Ford in North Carolina and then proceeded to win a string of impressive victories, including Texas. From there the two men engaged in an increasingly bitter, nip-and-tuck battle for delegates. By the time the Republican Convention opened in August 1976, the race for the nomination was still too close to call.
1976 Republican National Conventionwas held in Kansas City. As the convention began Ford was seen as having a slight lead in delegate votes, but still shy of the 1130 delegates he needed to win. In a bid to woo moderate Northern Republicans, Reagan shocked the convention by announcing that if he won the nomination, Senator Richard Schweikerof Pennsylvania, a liberal, would be his running mate. The move backfired, however, as few moderates switched to Reagan, while many conservative delegates were outraged. Ford defeated Reagan by a narrow margin on the first ballot.
Ford chose Senator
Robert Doleof Kansasas his running mate. After giving his acceptance speech, President Ford asked Reagan to come and say a few words to the convention; Reagan proceeded to give an eloquent address which virtually overshadowed Ford's speech. The 1976 Republican Convention remains the last political convention of either party to open without a candidate having already obtained a clear majority of the delegate votes.
The Fall Campaign
One of the advantages Ford held over Carter as the general election campaign began was that, as President, he was privileged to preside over events dealing with the
United States Bicentennial; this often resulted in favorable publicity for Ford. The Washington, D.C. fireworksdisplay on the Fourth of Julywas presided over by the President and televised nationally. [ [http://www.c-span.org/classroom/govt/1976.asp Election of 1976: A Political Outsider Prevails.] C-SPAN. Retrieved on 2006-12-31.] On July 7, 1976, the President and First Lady served as hosts at a White House state dinner for Queen Elizabeth IIand Prince Philipof the United Kingdom, which was televised on the Public Broadcasting Service ( PBS) network. These events were part of Ford's "Rose Garden" strategy to win the election; instead of appearing as a typical politician, Ford presented himself as a "tested leader" who was busily fulfilling the role of national leader and Chief Executive. Not until October did Ford leave the White House to actively campaign across the nation.
Jimmy Carter ran as an honest reformer who was "untainted" by Washington political scandals, which many voters found attractive in the wake of the
Watergate Scandal, which had led to President Richard Nixon's resignation. President Ford, although personally unconnected with Watergate, was seen by many as too close to the discredited Nixon administration, especially after Ford granted Nixon a presidential pardonfor any crimes he may have committed during his term of office.
After the Democratic National Convention, Carter held a huge 33-point lead over Ford in the polls. However, as the campaign continued the race tightened, and by election day the polls showed the race as too close to call. Carter's decline in the polls, and Ford's surge, is usually credited to three events. First, Carter promised a "blanket pardon" to Vietnam War
draft dodgers in a speech before the American Legion, an act which angered many conservatives who viewed the draft dodgers as traitors. Second, " Playboy" magazine published a controversial interview with Carter; in the interview Carter admitted to having "lusted in his heart" for women other than his wife, which cut into his support among women and evangelical Christians. Finally, on September 24, Ford performed well in what was the first televised presidential debate since 1960. Polls taken after the debate showed that most viewers felt that Ford was the winner. Carter was also hurt by Ford's charges that he lacked the necessary experience to be an effective national leader, and that Carter was vague on many issues.
However, Ford also committed a costly blunder in the campaign that halted his momentum. During the second presidential debate on October 6, Ford stumbled when he asserted that "there is no
Sovietdomination of Eastern Europeand there never will be under a Ford administration." He added that he did not "believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union", and made the same claim with regards to Yugoslavia and Romania. [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/debatingourdestiny/76debates/2_b.html] Ford compounded his error by refusing to retract his statement for almost a week after the debate. Conservatives who had been lukewarm to Ford's candidacy were particularly appalled, as Ford's insistence that Eastern Europe was not under Soviet control was baffling. As a result of this blunder, Ford's surge stalled and Carter was able to maintain a slight lead in the polls.
A vice presidential debate between Robert Dole and Walter Mondale also hurt the Republican ticket when Dole asserted that military unpreparedness on the part of Democratic presidents was responsible for all of the wars the U.S. had fought in the twentieth century. Dole, a
World War IIveteran, noted that in every twentieth-century war from World War Ito the Vietnam War, a Democrat had been President. Dole then pointed out that the number of U.S. casualties in "Democrat wars" was roughly equal to the population of Detroit. One factor which did help Ford in the closing days of the campaign was a series of television appearances he did with Joe Garagiola, Sr., a retired baseball star for the St. Louis Cardinalsand a well-known announcer for NBC Sports. Garagiola and Ford appeared in a number of shows in several large cities. During the show Garagiola would ask Ford questions about his life and beliefs; the shows were so informal, relaxed, and laid-back that some television critics labeled them the "Joe and Jerry Show". Ford and Garagiola obviously enjoyed one another's company, and they remained friends after the election was over.
Despite his campaign's blunders, Ford managed to close the remaining gap in the polls and by election day the race was judged to be even. Election day was November 2, and it took most of that night and the following morning to determine the winner. It wasn't until 3:30 am (EST), that the NBC television network was able to pronounce that Carter had carried
Mississippi, and had thus accumulated more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win (seconds later, ABC News also declared Carter the winner based on projections for Carter in Wisconsin and Hawaii; CBS News announced Carter's victory at 3:45 am). [Jules Witcover. "Marathon: The Pursuit of the Presidency, 1972–1976" (New York: Viking), p. 11.] Carter defeated Ford by two percentage points in the national popular vote. The electoral vote was the closest since 1916; Carter took 23 states with 297 electoral votes, while Ford won 27 states and 240 electoral votes (one elector from Washington state, pledged to Ford, voted for Reagan). Carter's victory came primarily from his near-sweep of the South (he lost only Virginia), and his close victories in large Northern states such as New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Ford did well in the West, carrying every state except Hawaii.
Had Ford won the election, the provisions of the 22nd amendment would have disqualified him from running in 1980, because he had served more than two years of Nixon's remaining term.
Source (Popular Vote): Leip PV source 2| year=1976| as of=August 7, 2005
Source (Electoral Vote): National Archives EV source| year=1976| as of=August 7, 2005
Mike Padden, a Republican faithless electorfrom Washington, gave Ronald Reaganone electoral vote."
(b) "The running mate of McCarthy varied from state to state, possibly in an effort to attract local voters similar to that tried by the Whigs in 1836, but this reasoning is an unverified theory."
(c) "Research has not yet determined whether Anderson's home state was
Tennesseeor Texasat the time of the 1976 election."
States where margin of victory was under 10%
#South Dakota, 1.48%
#New Jersey, 2.16%
#New Mexico, 2.47%
#New York, 4.43%
#North Dakota, 5.85%
Source: CBS News/ New York Times interviews with 12,782 voters as they left the polls, as reported in the New York Times, November 9, 1980, p. 28, and in further analysis. The 1976 data are from CBS News interviews.
(a) “Size” = share of 1980 national total
*The 1976 election was the first presidential election since 1932 which resulted in an incumbent President being defeated for re-election as a major party candidate. Four years later, in 1980, this event would occur again when
Ronald Reaganwould defeat President Carter in the general election and again, in 1992, when Bill Clintondefeated incumbent George H.W. Bushin his bid for re-election.
* This was the last time that a Democratic candidate carried any of the following states:
Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippiand Alabama.
* This was also the last time that the Democratic candidate won a majority, as opposed to a
plurality, of the Southern vote: in the South, Carter won 10,482,868 votes to Ford's 8,724,164 votes. [ [http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/state.php?year=1976&fips=51&f=1&off=0&elect=0 1976 Presidential General Election Results - Virginia ] ]
* 1976 marked the first year that a television news network used colors to represent the states won by the candidates.
John Chancellor, the anchorman for the NBC Nightly News, suggested to his network's engineers that they create a large electronic map of the United States; the map was placed in the network's election-night news studio. If Carter carried a state it would light up in red, if Ford won a state it would light up in blue. The feature proved to be so popular that all three major news networks would adopt the feature for the 1980 presidential election, and it has since become a staple of election-night broadcasts, although the colors for both parties have been reversed.
* This was the first time since 1908, and last time to date, that
Nevadadid not back the winning candidate.
* Although he lost, Ford carried 27 out of 50 states, the most ever won by a losing candidate.
History of the United States (1964–1980)
United States Senate election, 1976
* [http://geoelections.free.fr/USA/elec_comtes/1976.htm 1976 popular vote by counties]
* [http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/datagraph.php?year=1976&fips=0&f=1&off=0&elect=0 1976 popular vote by states (with bar graphs)]
* [http://www.msu.edu/~sheppa28/elections.html#1976 How close was the 1976 election?] - Michael Sheppard, Michigan State University
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