1972 Nixon VS. McGovern



Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Convention," McGovern, 1972


MALE NARRATOR: It was almost dawn in Miami when the final moment came, but the lateness of the hour did not dim the emotion in that hall, for the victory they celebrated was not his alone.

MCGOVERN: My nomination is all the more precious in that it's the gift of the most open political process in all of our political history.

MALE NARRATOR: The reforms had worked, for in Miami that night were people from the entire length and breadth of their party. Some were professionals, many were amateurs, but they all were Democrats, and they all shared the belief that this year each of them would make a difference.

WOMAN #1: I'm a housewife and a mother and a dairy farmer. I have one son, 17, and he was very anxious to do the driving, and so he offered to take me down, but he also told me if I didn't vote correctly, I'd walk home. And his vote was for McGovern.

MAN #1: Yeah, I've been in politics since 1960 and...I think that's the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party to begin with. I think the Democratic Party is the party of the people, the ones who care.

MAN #2: There were only three from the delegation who had ever been to a convention before. We were all new, and we didn't have a moment's free time. The first night went ten hours.

WOMAN #2: People feel as if they, there's no way they can influence what happens. And I always felt that way, and in fact, that's the really great thing about - I went to the national Democratic convention, you know? A lot of people said, "Oh, you lost prime time by being up all night." Well, that to me was great, and I, every delegate that, that was there stayed there and stayed with it.

MALE VOICE #1: The state senators and the members of the house of delegates and all of these new people really worked hard.

WOMAN #1: The everyday person in our section, they were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and salami sandwiches, right there on the convention floor, because they didn't have the money to eat in the hotels and restaurants. It, it wasn't a convention to play. The Miami people, hotel people, and the restaurant people were very unhappy because we, we didn't play.

MAN #1: We worked hard on the floor, and we had freedom of the floor to, to work in the way that we wanted to work.

WOMAN #2: Lots of people were able to participate, and because they're participating then the politicians - or he, in this case - will have to listen to what the people say, and he's going to respond to the people.

MAN #2: People were voting on their own conscience. I, I saw that myself.

MALE VOICE #2: I saw democracy happening right there on the floor.

MALE VOICE #3: Now, it was great. We worked as a team.

MALE VOICE #4: It was just fantastic. It was the first time I've ever seen anything that's supposed to not work, work.


MCGOVERN: This is the people's nomination, and next January, we will restore the government to the people of this country. Let the opposition collect their $10 million in secret money from the privileged few, and let us find one million ordinary Americans who will contribute $25 each to this campaign, a million-member club with members who will not expect special favors for themselves, but a better land for us all.


MALE NARRATOR: The contributions of 200,000 ordinary Americans had made him their nominee. He would need a million more to make him their president. The people are paying for this campaign with their hard earned dollars. Send what you can to: McGovern for President, Washington, D.C. McGovern. Democrat. For the people.


"Convention," McGovern, 1972

Maker: Charles Guggenheim

Video courtesy of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1972/convention (accessed May 22, 2024).


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1972 Nixon McGovern Results

In 1971, President Nixon’s approval rating fell below 50 percent. Despite his 1968 promises to end the Vietnam War, the conflict was dragging on. At home, inflation and unemployment were rising. Nixon restored his popularity through several actions: he took unprecedented diplomatic trips to China and Russia; stepped up efforts to end the war by ordering the bombing of Hanoi; instituted wage and price controls; and ended the draft, partly because of the recent lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18. Nixon’s opponent, South Dakota Senator George McGovern, who won his party’s nomination with a grassroots campaign sparked by the antiwar movement, called for withdrawal from Vietnam and a significant reduction in military spending. McGovern named as his running mate Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, who, shortly after the convention, revealed that he had been hospitalized for depression and had received shock therapy. McGovern dropped him from the ticket and replaced him with former ambassador R. Sargent Shriver. The incident created an impression of ineptitude. McGovern was also unable to convince the public of any connection between the Nixon administration and the June break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex.

Richard Nixon for president
Spiro Agnew for vice president

"President Nixon. Now More Than Ever"

No incumbent president has used television advertising more effectively than Richard Nixon in 1972. His ad campaign was a two-pronged attack depicting Nixon as a successful world leader and McGovern as a reckless liberal. Nixon’s positive ads used documentary techniques to give voters a glimpse inside the White House, with scenes of Nixon at state dinners, in meetings with world leaders, and at work in the Oval Office. The documentary style gave the spots a feeling of intimacy and authenticity, and created the impression that voters were getting a privileged view. The ads also attempted to humanize Nixon, who was widely perceived as cold and humorless, by showing him in relaxed moments playing the piano for Duke Ellington, dancing with his daughter at her wedding, and joking with Chinese translators.

Nixon’s most effective commercials, however, were attack ads. One spot ridiculed McGovern’s proposed defense cuts by using the stark image of a hand sweeping away toy soldiers, planes, and warships. Another claimed that McGovern would put 47 percent of the country on welfare. Though created by the Republican campaign, these ads were credited to "Democrats for Nixon," a strategy meant to create the impression that McGovern’s liberal views put him outside the mainstream of his own party.

Nixon’s ads were produced by the November Group, a virtual all-star team of advertising executives headed by Peter Dailey, who ran his own Los Angeles agency, Phil Joanou from Doyle Dane Bernbach, William Taylor from Ogilvy and Mather, and an advisory board of executives from many top agencies.

George McGovern for president
Sargent Shriver for vice president

"McGovern. Democrat. For the People"

The style of McGovern’s ads reflected the populist nature of his campaign. The candidate was filmed in informal encounters with voters in factories, meeting halls, hospitals, and senior-citizen centers. The spots were produced by Charles Guggenheim, the documentary filmmaker who had made many of Adlai Stevenson’s ads in 1956. In his commercials for McGovern, Guggenheim used cinéma vérité techniques. Photographed with a handheld camera and portable sound equipment, the ads were designed to look casual and spontaneous in deliberate contrast with the stately aura surrounding Nixon’s presidency. The ads succeeded in portraying McGovern as compassionate, but they did not make him look presidential.

McGovern had wanted to avoid negative ads, but he changed his mind late in the campaign in reaction to his poor standing in the polls. The attack ads against Nixon were delivered with a "crawl" of white text against a black background. This stark presentation of claims in a seemingly neutral style is now a common technique in political and product advertising.

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