The Election of 1968


  • Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, a tumultuous year that witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, as well as the splintering of the Democratic Party.
  • Nixon’s presidential campaign sought to appeal to what it deemed the “silent majority,” those middle-class white Americans who defended the status quo against radical social change.
  • Nixon’s campaign successfully employed the “Southern strategy,” an attempt to appeal to Southern racists resentful of civil rights activism and federal antipoverty programs.

1968: A momentous year

1968 was in many ways a turning point. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, sparking urban riots and protests.

Two months later, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian upset by Kennedy’s pro-Israel stance.

The assassinations contributed to the sense that the social fabric of the nation was ripping apart.

The Democratic Party in disarray

The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago showed how divided the Democratic Party had become. The “New Left” made up one faction, while the older New Deal Democrats constituted another. Thousands of antiwar activists collected on the streets of Chicago, where law enforcement officers met them with violence.

Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for re-election. The Democratic National Convention nominated Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey. He ran in a three-way race against Republican Richard Nixon and Independent Alabama Governor George Wallace, a Southern segregationist who opposed the Civil Rights Movement.

Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign

Richard Nixon promised law and order and an end to the war in Vietnam. Nixon’s use of “law and order” signaled his intention to crack down on student protesters and anyone else who tried to challenge the status quo of American society.

Nixon also embraced the “Southern strategy,” an appeal to Southern racists resentful of civil rights gains and President Johnson’s federal antipoverty programs.

Nixon won the presidency in a close race, marking a conservative shift in American politics. Independent candidate George Wallace made a strong showing, getting 13.5 percent of the popular vote.

Source: The Election of 1968
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