Where the political earth moved, 1968

In our survey of recent presidential elections, we now reach 1968, which this year could be a scary historical parallel for either Republicans (incumbent party collapses in the midst of an unpopular war) or Democrats (party isn’t able to recover from a bitter and protracted nomination fight). The first map shows the drop in support for the Democratic nominee from Kennedy in 1960 (49.7% of the vote) to 1968 (42.7%). The drop is greatest in the South and the interior West. You can see today’s Democratic base (Northeast, upper Midwest, West Coast) in the areas where Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey kept his party’s losses to a minimum. Also, the patches of green in the Deep South represent areas where voter participation among blacks went up significantly between 1948 and 1968.


The second map compares the vote for Richard Nixon in 1968 with the vote for Republican Tom Dewey in 1948 — the previous election with a strong Dixiecrat candidate (Strom Thurmond in 1948, George Wallace in 1968).


Though Nixon won in 1968, he ran 1.7 points behind Dewey’s losing percentage in 1948 (going from 45.1% to 43.4%). But he increased the Republican percentage in four of our 10 regions, with the biggest jump in South Coast, where he went from 31.4% to 39.6% — enough to carry the region in a three-way contest. Nixon carried four states in the region that went for Harry Truman in 1948: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. For the most part, they would remain part of the Republican base through the 2004 election.


The next map shows where Nixon ran best overall in 1968; keep in mind that 43% was enough for a victory that year. Essentially, this map shows what was left of the Republican base in the North after first Franklin Roosevelt and then John F. Kennedy chipped away at it. This is also before Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan filled in much of that blank space in the South and gave the GOP a new governing majority.


Next are two maps showing where Nixon and Humphrey got their biggest raw vote majorities (against each other, not considering votes for Wallace). In the inset map, note Illinois and Missouri, two states that switched from Democratic in 1960 to Republican eight years later; Nixon rolled up big majorities in the "collar counties" around Chicago in 1968, as well as in suburban St. Louis County, that outweighed Humphrey’s big-city margins in those states.

Rawvote1968 Rawvotemo1968

And here’s where George Wallace ran strongest in 1968. His base was mostly, but not entirely in the Confederate South, but he did better in the interior than on the Atlantic Coast.

Pctofvotewallace1968_2  Pctofvotewallace1968south