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Distribution of votes in the 1972 US presidential election

The 1972 US presidential election was contested between incumbent President Richard Nixon of the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party's George S. McGovern. Nixon won the Republican nomination easily, and was the firm favorite to win the election, due to his foreign policy (particularly when dealing with China and the Soviet Union) and the healthy state of the US economy. The early favorite in the Democratic Primary was Ed Muskie, although a forged letter (later revealed to have come from Nixon's campaign) claimed that Muskie had made disparaging remarks against French-Canadians, and this damaged his reputation in New England. When the press attacked Muskie's wife's character, the candidate made a statement refuting their claims, however the press used it as another opportunity to attack him, effectively ending his campaign. McGovern then became the frontrunner, although a significant challenge from Arthur Bremer was cut short when he was shot five times and paralyzed from the waist down. McGovern then went on to win easily, however notable other candidates were Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to run for either of the major party's nominations, and Patsy Mink, the first Asian American to run for the Democratic nomination. The only major third party candidate was John Hospers of the American Independent Party, while this was also the first time the Libertarian Party, which is the third largest political party in the US as of 2020, featured on the ballot.

Campaign and Results

Nixon's popularity grew as the campaign went on, while the press labelled McGovern a radical, left-wing extremist, who stood for "amnesty, abortion and acid". When it emerged that McGovern's running mate, Thomas Eagleton, had undergone shock-therapy for depression, some of the press claimed that this endangered the national security of the country should Eagleton become President. Despite the majority of public agreeing that Eagleton's depression would not affect their vote, McGovern asked him to step down, just three days after backing him "1000 percent". This lack of conviction damaged McGovern's reputation even further, and he dropped to just 24 percent in the polls. Eventually, Nixon won re-election, taking a majority in 49 states, ending up with 97 percent of the electoral vote. He also took over sixty percent of the popular vote, just shy of Johnson's share in 1964. This was the first election where a Republican took every state in the south. The only two areas where McGovern won were Massachusetts and Washington DC. One faithless elector voted for John Hospers of the Libertarian Party, making his running mate, Theodora Nathan, the first woman to ever receive an electoral vote in a US presidential election. Schmitz took almost 1.5 percent of the popular vote, but was unable to convert this into any electoral votes.

Watergate scandal

The Watergate scandal took place between 1972 and 1974 in the United States. It is arguably the largest political scandal in US history, and culminated in the only ever resignation of a standing US President. On June 17, 1972 (five months before the election) five men broke into the Democratic National Convention and wiretapped the then-President's political opponents. After the perpetrators were arrested, a link was subsequently found between the culprits and Nixon's re-election campaign, and further investigations (after Nixon was re-elected) uncovered evidence that directly implicated the President in the scandal and its attempted cover-up. Because of the attempted cover-up, Nixon lost practically all of his political support, and resigned as President before he would have undoubtedly been impeached and removed from office. Nixon was succeeded by his Vice President, Gerald R. Ford, who controversially granted a "full, free and absolute" presidential pardon to the former-President, clearing him of any wrongdoing in the Watergate scandal.

Share of electoral college* and popular votes** in the 47th US presidential election in 1972

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Release date



United States

Survey time period


Supplementary notes

*Actual number of electoral votes:
Richard Nixon - 520
George S. McGovern - 17
John Hospers - 1
John Schmitz - 0

**Actual number of popular votes:
Richard Nixon - 47,169,911
George S. McGovern - 29,170,383
John Hospers - 3,674
John Schmitz - 1,100,868

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