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1968 Election

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1968 Election

The 1968 U.S. presidential election was a unique and close election during troubled times in America. Set amid the Vietnam War and civil rights unrest, the election contained a strong showing by a third-party candidate and an assassination of a major party candidate. 1968 was a pivotal time in the U.S., with major domestic and foreign events weighing on the voters' minds.

The election changed the course of the war and domestic policy in the United States. This article will highlight the major candidates and the issues at play in this important election. We will weigh the popular and electoral votes and look at the significance of the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.

1968 Presidential Election Candidates

1968 Democratic Candidates

President Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for re-election after major setbacks in the war and domestic policy. As a result, liberal Democratic Senators Robert F. Kennedy (NY) and Eugene McCarthy (OR) faced off against Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey. After Robert Kennedy won the California Primary in June, he was assassinated, opening the path to a Humphrey nomination.

Hubert Humphrey was a pharmacist who turned to local politics as a mayor in Minnesota. Humphrey then began a long and prominent career in the U.S. Senate that drove his selection for the Vice-Presidency under Johnson in 1964.

1968 Republican Candidates

On the Republican side, former Vice-President Richard Nixon who ran for President unsuccessfully against John F. Kennedy in 1960, won the nomination. Richard Nixon, practiced law after college until he joined the U.S. Navy during World War Two. Nixon was a naval officer stationed in the South Pacific and served in the Reserves after the war through 1966 while he expanded his political career.

The conservative politician from California began a career in public service starting in the U.S. House of Representatives before serving in the U.S. Senate and as Vice President under Eisenhower. Nixon was known for tackling issues such as Cold War threats and domestic unrest earning him credentials as a stabilizing figure during times of violence and upheaval.

1968 Independent Candidate

Notably, former Alabama Governor George Wallace, a vocal segregationist left the Democratic Party to run for President on a "law and order" platform, targeting crime, anti-war protests, and radical social changes. Wallace's American Independent Party gained national attention and significant Southern support. Notably, Wallace's views on race and support for segregationist policies earned him considerable public scrutiny and national attention.

Photo of President Richard Nixon in Vietnam in 1969.

1969 Official Visit Of President Richard Nixon To Saigon. Manhhai, CreativeCommons.

1968 Photo of Demoratic U.S. Presidential Candidate Hubert Humphrey

1968 Hubert Humphrey Campaigning. Source: Kheel Center on CreativeCommons.

Photo of  1968 Presidential Candidate George Wallace

Former Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1968. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Background to the 1968 Election

After years of fighting and civil rights unrest in America, a wave of political protests impacted the candidates running for major party nominations in 1968. America had been embroiled in the Vietnam War since 1965 and protests were heated during the presidential election year. The rising death toll, pressures of the military draft, and lack of success reversed earlier public support for U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia.

Despite civil rights legislative successes with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many demanded further progress. The end of legal segregation did not end the actions of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and individuals willing to use violence to intimidate or kill opponents in the struggle for racial equality. The assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy further increased the tensions in an already divided America.

Major Events in 1968

  • The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on April 4th shocked the nation.
  • Race riots across the country plagued American cities.
  • The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5th removed a key Democratic presidential candidate.
  • Anti-war protests spread across the nation, particularly on college campuses.
  • This was the height of the Vietnam War involvement over 500,000 troops involved.
  • The yearly death toll of American soldiers was the highest with 16,899 killed.1
  • The military draft continued with one-third of the total troops drafted into military service.
  • In Vietnam, the My Lai Massacre on March 16th resulted in hundreds of civilians intentionally being killed by U.S. troops.

The Conventions and Civil Unrest

The 1968 Democratic Convention met in Chicago and was the site of major political protest including extreme violence. Highlighting the fragmented American society of the time, anti-war protestors ranged from the peaceful to those promoting anarchy. Radical protest methods and violent actions were met with a forceful police response.

Television news covered days of protestors being beaten with clubs and tear-gassed. Average Americans were clearly influenced by the events and Nixon benefitted on Election Day.

The Republican Party used the violence and disorder surrounding the Democratic Convention to boost its own party platform against violence in America at the Republican Convention in Miami.

1968 Election Issues

The Democrats, Hubert Humphrey used the slogan, "Some People Talk Change, Others Cause It" against rival Richard Nixon's "Nixon's the One," and "This time, vote like your whole world depended on it." Nixon also used pushed for "order and justice" to counter Wallace's "law and order" proposals.

Fundamental issues like crime and poverty, and U.S. intervention abroad, epitomized by the war in Vietnam, were central to the campaigns. Many in Washington and on "Main Street, U.S.A." called for an end to U.S. fighting in Vietnam. All candidates addressed this issue with Humprhey mirroring the current views of the White House and recent developments in the war.

By contrast, Nixon teased a security plan to achieve U.S. objectives while withdrawing forces. Wallace chose famed Air Force General Curtis LeMay as his running mate. LeMay famously admitted nuclear weapons could be an option to win the war in Vietnam. Overall, the protests and violence in America and the war in Vietnam became the major issues of the 1968 election.

Five days before the election, President Johnson announced an end to the bombing of North Vietnam. A long-desired peace process was advanced and Humphrey was expected to benefit politically.

1968 Presidential Election Results

CANDIDATE

PARTY

ELECTORAL VOTES

POPULAR VOTES

PERCENTAGE OF POPULAR VOTE

✔ Richard Nixon

Republican

301

31,783,783

43.42

Hubert H. Humphrey

Democrat

191

31,271,839

42.72

George Wallace

American Independent

46

9,901,118

13.53

Table of 1968 U.S. Presidential Election Results. StudySmarter Original.

1968 Election Map

Map of the 1968 U.S. Presidential Election Results, Electoral College

1968 U.S. Presidential Election Results. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

1968 Election of Richard Nixon

Nixon's narrow victory in the popular vote with three major candidates vying for the public's vote was overshadowed by the clear electoral win. Nixon's goal of winning what was known as the "silent majority" became clear as election results were examined. The predominantly white working-class and middle-class citizens that were upset over disorder and violence in America comprised the less vocal "silent majority" Instead of taking to the streets in protest, they expressed their views mostly through the election ballots.

Historians have studied what has been called the Republican's Southern Strategy. Nixon hoped to win enough electoral votes in the South to secure a win. The strategy was based on appealing to the prevailing views of many Southerners on issues such as civil rights, states rights, and the role of the federal government.

Did you know that this was the last time a sitting president did not run for a second time and the last time a 3rd party candidate won all the electoral votes of a state? The fact that President Lyndon Johnson refused to run for a second term and Wallace won in five states for the American Independent Party made the 1968 presidential election unique in U.S. history.

1968 Election Significance

Nixon's election win in November 1968 was a decisive win for the Republican Party and a rebuke of the Johnson-Humphrey Administration. Americans were divided on matters of war, economics, and social policy. Johnson's Great Society plea for social and education programs was sidelined as the war in Vietnam expanded during his time in office. Poor results, wartime tragedies, and the resulting anti-war movement caused many Americans to seek new political leadership.

Richard Nixon and his soon-to-be National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger claimed to have a secret plan to achieve "peace with honor." The war and protests would continue throughout Nixon's time in office before an American exit in 1973 and the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.

1968 Election - Key takeaways

  • The election occurred during the height of the Vietnam War with widespread anti-war protests across America.
  • The Democratic candidate was the current V.P. Hubert Humphrey against former V.P. Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate.
  • A third-party candidate, George Wallace the former Governor of Alabama, made a strong showing winning five states and 14% of the popular vote as the American Independent Party candidate.
  • Major election issues included widespread crime, growing poverty, and most importantly the war in Vietnam.
  • Republican Richard Nixon won the election with 301 electoral votes and a narrow majority of the popular vote.
  • The election changed the course of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, ushering in Nixon's "peace with honor" plans.

1. U.S. National Archives, "U.S. military death toll in Vietnam," (n.d.).

Frequently Asked Questions about 1968 Election

The 1968 Presidential election was won by Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate. 

The Democratic nominee for President in 1968 was Hubert Humphrey. 

"Nixon's the One", and "This time, vote like your whole world depended on it" were Nixon campaign slogans.

The 1968 election was important in deciding the future of U.S. involvement in Vietnam as well as showing the potential of third-party candidates in major elections.    

Democratic Senators Robert F. Kennedy (NY) and Eugene McCarthy (OR) faced off against Johnson’s Vice President - Hubert Humphrey in the primaries leading to Humphrey's nomination to face the Republican candidate - Richard Nixon. 

Final 1968 Election Quiz

Question

Who won the 1968 Presidential Election?

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Answer

Richard Nixon

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Question

Who ran in 1968 on the American Independent Party platform?

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Answer

George Wallace

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Question

What election accomplishment did Wallace earn?

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Answer

George Wallace earned 46 electoral votes by winning 5 states votes.  He also won 14% of the popular vote

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Question

What war dominated the 1968 election?

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Answer

World War Two

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Question

What was a major campaign issue in the 1968 election?

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Answer

crime, violence, and protest

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Question

The Republican and Democratic nominees both held which major office?

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Answer

U.S. Secretary of State

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Question

In the election results, which vote was very close?

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Answer

Popular vote (about 500,000 votes separated Nixon from Humphrey)

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Question

Which of the following is NOT true about the 1968 Election?

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Answer

The Republican nominee won in the general election.

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Question

What was a slogan used by Nixon?

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Answer

"Nixon's the man"

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Question

What campaign slogan did Humphrey use?

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Answer

"Some People Talk Change, Others Cause It"

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Question

The election changed the course of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, ushering in Nixon's "peace with honor" plans.

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Answer

True

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Question

Major protests occurred during the campaign season, notably during the Republican Party Convention in Chicago.

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Answer

True

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Question

America's election system allowed for multiple political parties to represent voters in 1968.  Which group showed a strong third-party showing?

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Answer

American Independent

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Question

List a few major events of 1968?

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Answer

  • The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr 
  • Race riots 
  • The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy 
  • Anti-war protests 
  • The Vietnam War
  • The yearly death toll of American soldiers was the highest with 16,899 killed.
  • The My Lai Massacre 
  • Protests at the Democratic convention
  • The Presidential Election

Show question

Question

Who was assassinated in 1968?

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Answer

John F. Kennedy

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