Jimmy Carter Election Campaign
Andrew Tarbox, Green Block
After Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 to avoid impeachment after the infamous Watergate Scandal, an event that both destroyed his political career and created distrust of the American people with the national government, Vice President Gerald Ford became President. In a risky speech on September 8, 1974, only about a month after Nixon’s resignation, Ford pardoned Nixon’s actions by saying, “It is common knowledge that serious allegations and accusations hang like a sword over our former President’s head…as he tries to reshape his life, a great part of which was spent in the service of this country and by the mandate of its people.” Before Ford pardoned Nixon’s actions, his approval rating was 71%; however, not long after pardoning Nixon’s actions, his approval rating plummeted to 46%, resulting in a poor rapport with the American people leading into the 1976 election.
As a result, voters looked to a candidate who they could trust. Jimmy Carter, a member of a long family line of peanut farmers and the former governor of
insisted that he was just that candidate and portrayed himself as “a leader for
a change.” In addition to portraying himself as a candidate who would provide
change, his most important campaign strategy was his emphasis on integrity,
honesty, and cooperation with the American people. For example, in a 1976 television
advertisement, Carter said, “ we've seen walls built around Washington and we feel like we can’t quite
get through to guarantee the people of this country a government that’s
sensitive to our needs.” Furthermore, in speeches that Carter gave in New Hampshire, Mississippi,
and Iowa he
finished them with the same message of having a government that cooperatively
works with the people and stated such promises in vague terms. For example he
said, “I don’t want anything selfish out of the government. And I think I want
the same thing you do. And that is to have our nation once again with a
government as good and honest and decent and truthful and fair and competent
and idealistic and compassionate, and as filled with love, as are the American
Jimmy Carter’s campaign theme of always being on the side of the American people whether it was promising to be sensitive to their needs or being truthful to them, as well as his speaking in vague terms proves aspects of
campaign tips for his brother, Marcus, a candidate for consul in 64 BC. In
writing to his brother about what will result in his election, Cicero told his
brother, “There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election:
favors, hope, and personal attachment…As for those who you have inspired with
hope…you must make them believe that you will always be there to help them.” By
entering the election during a period of national scandal, Jimmy Carter was
able to depict a sense of hope in the American people. His campaign slogan, “a
leader for a change,” implied that he would help put trust back into American
politics. In his speeches, Carter lived his campaign slogan in such promises as
having a “government that is sensitive to our needs.” In this statement, Carter
not only continued depicting hope, but also showed personal attachment tot the
American people by suggesting that their struggle for a personalized government
is his struggle too. Furthermore, he used words such as “compassionate” and
“love” in the context of the government’s relation to the people, further
showing his promise of personal attachment. Carter also spoke in vague terms in
his campaign, a suggestion that Cicero
outlines as important to avoid making “specific pledges either to the Senate or
the people.” Although Carter did not show how he would make a more truthful
government, he said that it would be “compassionate” and “filled with love.”
Such words, Cicero
described, “assure the common people that you have always been on their side.”
As a result of Carter’s honesty toward the people and his promise to be on
their side, he led the polls by 34 points after both the Democratic and Republican
national conventions. In contrast, while Gerald Ford’s campaign stressed the
incumbent’s honesty, Ford’s pardon of Nixon’s actions in the Watergate scandal
did not portray and honest candidate who would be on the peoples’ side. The
margin by which Carter led after the conventions showed that his honesty toward
the people was an effective strategy.
In addition to Carter proving
Cicero’s campaign tips, Carter’s campaign
used the technique of grassroots campaigning to portray its message to the
American people. A group of volunteers form Carter’s home state of Georgia, called
the “Peanut Brigade,” traveled across the country to campaign for Carter. At
the beginning of the campaign, many Americans asked the question “Jimmy who?”
because Jimmy Carter was relatively unknown on the national level. The “Peanut
Brigade” helped Carter campaign across the United States, adding to the
already large number of trips he made independently.
Jimmy Carter’s promise for change, his promise to provide a government that listens to the needs of the American people and provides transparency, and his grassroots campaign group that brought awareness to his candidacy helped to create an effective campaign, resulting in Carter’s election. His promises to the people were especially effective at a time in which the national government was struck by scandal. Carter was further helped by the fact that his opponent, Gerald Ford, had low approval ratings as a result of his pardoning of Nixon’s actions during the Watergate scandal. Although this was the case, the overall effectiveness of Carter’s promises caused him to win the election by 37 Electoral College votes.
A Jimmy Carter television advertisement called “
Washington” from 1976:
A member of the “Peanut Brigade” Grassroots campaign
Agiesta, Jennifer. “Approval Highs and Lows.” The
Post. Last modified July 24, 2007. Accessed October 10, 2012.
Broder, David S. “Carter:Putting Love Back Into the Political Lexicon.” The
Post ( ), January 18, 1976. Washington District of Columbia
Carter, Jimmy. “Our Nation’s Past and Future.” Speech presented at The Democratic National Convention,
The American Presidency Project. Accessed October 10, 2012.
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=25953. New York City, NY
“Ford Pardons Nixon - September 8, 1974.” Youtube. Video file. Accessed October 10, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM9dGr8ArR0.
Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. “The Peanut Brigade and the 1976 Election Campaign.” Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. Accessed October 10, 2012. http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/education/pt/Unit4.pdf.
Public Broadcasting Station. “The Election of 1976.” American Experience. Accessed October 10, 2012. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/carter-election1976/.
Stallings, Melissa. “Election of 1976.” In ABC-Cllio. Accessed October 10, 2012. http://americangovernment.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/200996?terms=election+of+1976.
Washington’ Jimmy Carter 4President 1976 TV
Ad.” Youtube. Video file. Accessed October 10, 2012.