1972 Nixon VS. McGovern



Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Russia," Nixon, 1972

MALE NARRATOR: Moscow. May, 1972. Richard Nixon becomes the first American president ever to visit the Russian capitol. The historic five-day trip proves to be a working visit, where firm agreements are formed between the two great powers. Late in the week, the Russian government provides President Nixon with a unique opportunity: a chance to report on this progress directly to the Russian people on live television.

NIXON: We have agreed on joint ventures in space. We have agreed on ways of working together to protect the environment, to advance health, to cooperate in science and technology. We have agreed on means of preventing incidents at sea. We have established a commission to expand trade between our two nations. Most important, we have taken an historic first step in the limitation of nuclear strategic arms.

MALE NARRATOR: The agreements do not come easily. President Nixon, Secretary Rodgers, and Doctor Kissinger spend long hours hammering out terms that are equal for both countries and beneficial to all countries.

In his TV address, the President speaks to the Russians about the American people.

NIXON: In many ways, the people of our two countries are very much alike. Like the Soviet Union, ours is a large and diverse nation. Our people, like yours, are hardworking. Like you, we Americans have a strong spirit of competition. But we also have a great love of music and poetry and sports. Above all, we, like you, are an open, natural, and friendly people. We love our country. We love our children. And we want for you, and your children, the same peace and abundance that we want for ourselves and our children.

MALE NARRATOR: Earlier in the week, President and Mrs. Nixon traveled to Leningrad, where they walked through Pavloft, the ancient residence of the tsars. In Kiev, they visited the Cathedral of St. Sofia. And in Moscow, Mrs. Nixon is entertained by the famous Russian circus. In Leningrad, President Nixon visits the Piskalov cemetery, and he recalls that experience in his TV address.

NIXON: Yesterday I lay a wreath at the cemetery which commemorates the brave people who died at the siege of Leningrad in World War II. At the cemetery I saw a picture of a 12-year-old girl. She was a beautiful child. Her name was Tanya. The pages of her diary tell the terrible story of war. In the simple words of a child, she wrote about the deaths of her family. Zenya in December. Granny in January. Leka, then uncle Vasya, then Uncle Lyosha, then mama. And then, finally, these words, the last words in her diary: "All are dead. Only Tanya is left." As we work hard on our peaceful world, let us think of Tanya, and all of the other Tanyas, and their brothers and sisters everywhere. Let us do all we can to ensure that no other children will have to endure what Tanya did, and that your children and ours, all the children of the world, can live their full lives together in friendship and in peace. Spasibo, and dosvidanya.

TRANSLATOR: Thank you, and goodbye.

MALE NARRATOR: President Nixon offers a lasting message to the people of Russia. A pledge to continue the pledge for peace among all nations. This is why we need President Nixon, now more than ever.

[TEXT: President Nixon. Now more than ever.]


"Russia," Committee to Re-elect the President, 1972

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/russia (accessed June 21, 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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