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1976 Presedential Election

Updated on May 5, 2013

1976 Presidential Election

Evidently there were a number of reasons for Ford’s failure to win re-election in 1976. Arguably the most notable factors were the divisions within the Republican party as a result of the Watergate scandal, the struggling economy, and also Jimmy Carter’s challenge, particularly as he was a Washington outsider.


1) Watergate

The Watergate scandal triggered both Republican divisions and uncertainty concerning the presidency which plagued Ford’s 4 years in Oval Office. Initially, it was perceived Ford was the ideal candidate to facilitate America’s healing, because of his ‘regular guy’ image, however this was quickly dismissed. Ford pardoned Nixon early in 1974, and for many, including Republicans, far from ending the scandal, it heightened Ford’s association with it. This is epitomized by a comment made by a congressman directly after his pardoning that “Jerry will deal on anything”, thus the fact that Ford pardoned Nixon tarnished his own campaign; in doing so lost him the vote of many, especially right wing Republicans.

2) Republican Divisons

Nixon’s election marked a change in US politics, as out of the 10 preceding presidents there were 7 Democrats and only 3 Republicans. Moreover both Ford’s appointment of John.D. Rockefeller as Vice President and Reagan’s challenge to him in the Primaries, contributed to his failure in 1976. Ford was left four months without a vice president, which was in itself a major failure, and when he finally chose one in John.D. Rockefeller it only acted as a catalyst for right wing Republican criticisms of him. After the appointment of Rockefeller Right wing Republicans openly criticized Ford as president, in turn enabling Reagan to wage his challenge to Ford. As detrimental as his appointment of Rockefeller was, Reagan’s challenge far surpassed the issues with Ford’s Vice President. Firstly, Reagan split Republicans, which partly contributed to the low election turn out (alongside Ford’s pardoning of Nixon), which is said to have affected Ford more significantly then Carter. Moreover Reagan also mocked Ford’s ‘aimless’ foreign policy; namely Ford’s ‘betrayal’ in attending the 1975 Helsinki conference. Although Reagan, due to unfavorable circumstances, did not succeed he had both humiliated Ford and forced him to appoint the unimpressive Bob Dole as vice President who lost him many votes due to poor Vice Presidential debates.


3) Ford's Foreign Policy

As Reagan highlighted Ford’s foreign policy was particularly weak, and was certainly a significant factor in the failure of his 1976 campaign. Arguably the most detrimental aspect of his policy was his decision to participate in the 1975 Helsinki Conference which many, including Reagan, argued showed America as accepting Soviet domination in Eastern Europe,which was viewed incredibly unfavorably as it symbolised America’s cooperation with communism. In doing so, Ford isolated the large majority of his own party, who were increasingly anti-communist. Moreover the Cyprus crisis created problems for Ford’s re-election because Congress supported Greece unlike Ford and they withdrew all military aid to Turkey, which signified Congressional control over foreign policy thus demonstrating a weakness in Ford, equally contributing to Carter’s victory. Like Republican divisions, Ford’s poor foreign policy, and the criticism it took significantly contributed to Ford’s failure in 1976.


4) Anti-Washington feeling and the economy

Paradoxically in the 76 election Ford’s incumbency and his Governmental experience didn’t act as an advantage. Aside from his association with corruption his incumbency didn’t benefit him because of the economic turmoil the country was in by the end of his presidency. His Presidency saw rise to stagflation, as inflation hit double figures and this contributed to rising food, oil and house prices which evidently demonstrated the country’s need to change direction. Moreover his efforts in reducing inflation were futile, namely his failure concerning the WIN programme. Many historians argue that the turning point in the election was the economic slowdown, only days before the election. As a result of Watergate the American presidency, and anything associated with the White House was viewed with distrust, thus Carter’s lack of experience in Washington acted as an advantage for him.

Although, arguably both Republican divisions and the toppling economy contributed significantly to Ford’s downfall in 1976, the prime reason for Carter’s victory was the Presidencies tarnished reputation; heightened by Nixon’s pardoning of Ford.

Who would you have voted for

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    • pramodgokhale profile image

      pramodgokhale 4 years ago from Pune( India)


      In 1976, we Indians celebrated Jimmy Carter's victory because he defeated sitting president. Vietnam war was over and most controversial diplomat Dr. Henry Kissinger had been vanished from global political scene.

      During 1971 Indo-Pak war Nixon-Kissinger duo was the worst in global history , threatened India by sending 7 Th fleet in Indian ocean.

      Global community was expecting change of guard and new president with new doctrine and ensuring peace and prosperity

      thank you.