U.S. presidential election, 1964

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Contents

Introduction

The 1964 Presidential Election was the last in which a Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, won in a landslide. In this case, the victory was over Republican Barry Goldwater, whose disorganized campaign and perceived far-right beliefs kept many GOP moderates from voting for him. There was also a strong sense, reinforced by many of Goldwater's statements and the statements of his supporters, that he was incautious concerning nuclear war.

In some respects this election was the beginning of a realignment in the Democratic and Republican coalitions. African-Americans overwhelmingly supported Johnson (Kennedy had only won 60% of the black vote in 1960) and amny moderate northerners in traditionally Republican areas (such as upstate New York and Vermont) has little trouble supporting Johnson. Many deep southerners, traditionally Democratic, supported Goldwater, marking their first significant defection to the GOP.


The Nominations

Johnson, as the incumbent following John F. Kennedy's assassination the previous year, was the obvious Democratic choice; the nation was at peace, prosperous, and Johnson had promised to enact JFK's promised reforms in civil rights. Alabama governor George Wallace ran against Johnson in a few primaries, but was not successful in winning any of them. Even so, Wallace's alarmingly high percentages against Johnson signalled a coming split in the party. Johnson was nominated by acclaimation at the convention, and since he was still perceived by many in the party as a moderate/conservative Democrat, he picked dedicated liberal and labor favorite Hubert Humphrey for vice-president.

In contrast to the orderly and largely unified front the Democrats presented, the Republicans were in something of a mess. The party was badly divided between conservative and moderate factions and few were willing to take on the popular LBJ. With Richard Nixon, who had united the two halves of the party in 1960, refusing to run, party bosses looked in vain for a uniting voice. One sign of the Republican desparation to find a candidate was the victory of write-in candidate Henry Cabot Lodge in the New Hampshire primary over both Goldwater and New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. But with Lodge declining to run, the main opposition to Goldwater, who was supported by a grassroots network of conservative activists, became Rockefeller. Rockefeller, who agreed with the Democrats' civil rights plank, warned the GOP that a Goldwater nomination would lead to certain defeat and would have a detrimental effect on downballot races, and added that it would lose blacks and northerners as possible Republican constituencies. But Rockefeller was ultimately defeated in the primaries due to his recent divorce and remairrage, which dominated many tabloid headlines. A last-minute "Stop Goldwater" movement at the Republican convention rallied around Pennsylvania governor William Scranton, but was too little, too late.

The Campaign

Many moderate Republicans, including not only Rockefeller and Scranton, but also Michigan governor George Romney and New York Senator Kenneth Keating, were livid at Goldwater's nomination. Their fears were only magnified after his contentious convention speech where he famously declared that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Nor did it help that Goldwater had purposely picked as his running mate a fierce conservative, William Miller of New York's southern tier, because he "drove Johnson nuts." Goldwater also seemed to have a habit of saying exactly the wrong thing to his audiences. He told a crowd in Tennessee that he would seek to abolish the TVA, a major source of government jobs. He told North Dakota farmers that a cut in agriculture subsidies would be good for them. and he famously told retirees in Florida that he would make Social Security voluntary. These, combined with his blithely dismissive comments about nuclear war convinced many voters that Goldwater was too extreme and irresponsible to be president. Even those with reservations about Johnson often declared that they would vote for him just to keep Goldwater out. Johnson himself landed in some controversy, especially with the so-called "Daisy Girl" advertisement, which implied that Goldwater might start a nuclear war. But these conrtroversies were largely overshadowed by the almost daily stream of ill-advised statements from Goldwater.

The Results

Johnson buried Goldwater on election day, both in the popular vote and in the electoral college. Goldwater won only his home state of Arizona, plus five deep south states which objected to Johnson's civil rights legislation (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana). Johnson's sweep in many northern states was overwhelming; we won every county in Vermont, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Delaware. This was also the most recent election in which Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Idaho, Virginia, and Wyoming voted for the Democrat for president. It was also the last election, as of 2007, in which the Democrat won an absolute majority of the white vote, and the first in which a Democrat received over 80% of the black vote.

U.S. Presidential Election Results, 1964
Candidate Party Percentage Popular Vote Electoral Vote
Lyndon Johnson Democrat 61.05% 43,127,041 486
Barry Goldwater Republican 38.47% 27,175,754 52
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