40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: The 1976 Election
As the country prepared for the next Presidential election in 1976 Watergate and President Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon in 1974 was still on people’s minds.
Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter repeatedly said he would not make the pardon a campaign issue. “The American people know who pardoned Richard Nixon,” he stated. “They don’t need to have it raised by a candidate.” His running mate didn’t share that view. Vice Presidential nominee Walter Mondale mentioned it in his speech at the Democratic National Convention and continued to bring it up during the campaign.
The Harris Survey confirmed that it was still an issue. In August 1976 poll results showed a 59 to 33 percent majority of voters believed President Ford “was wrong to pardon Richard Nixon.” At the same time, a 52 to 34 percent majority felt that he had acted in the country’s best interests. Based on the data Louis Harris concluded “that any change in public attitudes towards the Nixon pardon could have an immediate impact on the race for the White House.”
Ford’s campaign advisers included a briefing sheet on the pardon in the President’s debate preparation materials. In the first campaign debate he was asked to address why former President Nixon received a full pardon while amnesty for Vietnam draft resisters had been conditional. He stood by both decisions, stating that “the need and necessity for me to concentrate on the problems of the country fully justified the action that I took” in pardoning Nixon.
On November 2, 1976, Jimmy Carter won the election by a slim margin, receiving 50% of the popular vote to President Ford’s 48%. Many believed that the pardon had contributed to President Ford’s defeat, including Betty Ford. “Many people who definitely were for Jerry could not bring themselves to vote for him because he pardoned Nixon,” she later said. One post election analysis of the factors motivating voters’ decisions reported that “seven points of the anti-Ford vote stemmed from Watergate.”
Image: President Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Meet at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia to Debate Domestic Policy during the First of the Three Ford-Carter Debates, 09/23/1976.
You meet ‘em, cuss ‘em, and give ‘em hell and you’ll win in 1964.
Harry Truman to John F. Kennedy
State Senate campaign poster, 1910
Franklin Roosevelt entered politics at age 28. Handsome, engaging, and blessed with a celebrated, vote-getting last name, FDR began his rapid rise by winning a seat in New York’s state senate in 1910 and championing the kind of progressive reforms his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had called for.
This poster was distributed during FDR’s first election campaign in 1910. Running in a heavily-Republican district, he won by a narrow margin of 1,140 votes.
LBJ’s 1941 U.S. Senate Campaign
Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson speaks with voters on one last campaign stop in Johnson City. The election was later that day. 6/28/41.
LBJ Library photo 41-6-130, by the Austin American-Statesman. Use free with credit to the original source.