What does Anderson versus closely matched Carter and Reagan in 1980 have in common with Wallace versus closely matched Humphrey and Nixon in 1968? Everyone following presidential elections knows that Humphrey lost to Nixon by a mere seven-tenths of a point in the popular vote, Humphrey 42.7, Nixon 43.4 , and Wallace 13.5; but the electoral college divided more widely, 301 for Nixon , 191 for Humphrey, and 46 for Wallace. If you want the historical setting for the way Congressman Anderson could influence the coming possibly close election, take a look at the role Wallace's independent candidacy played in the very close election in 1968.
Ths history of independent candidates is not a record of success, except in their ability to split the major party vote. In this century there have been two outstanding efforts by independent candidates, by Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 and by Robert LaFollette in 1924. Roosevelt drew a large number of Republican voters away from Taft, which resulted in the election of Woodrow Wilson -- with Wilson 42 percent. Taft 27 percent, and Roosevelt 23 percent. Im 1924 Coolidge received a larger vote than the combined vote of his two major opponents.
The common view of Nixon's victory over Humphrey in 1968 is that Humphrey was hurt by public reaction to United States participation in the unpopular war in Vietnam, a war that he supported publicly not wishing to break with President Johnson. When he did break with Johnson, it was too late. But the real explanation of Humphrey's loss to Nixon by a mere seven-tenths of a point lies elsewhere, in the diversion of Democratic support to the independent party headed by Governor Wallce.
What is generally overlooked is that Nixon on election day received practically the same percentage as his rating in the polls both before and after the conventions. It was Humphrey's rating that went through a sharp gyration.In May-June, 1968, he rated ahead of Nixon. By September he had dropped to less than 30 percent, 15 points below Nixon. But this loss was not a shift to Nixon; it was caused by a shift from Humphrey to Wallace, who by that time stood about 25 percent in the polls. This interplay between Wallace and Humphrey suport was again confirmed by the fact that Humphrey's recovery to nearly 43 percent on election day reflects the decline in Wallace's support down to 13 percent.
One view of the Humprey recovery from the Wallace impact is that, had the campaign lasted one more day, Humphrey would have won over Nixon by probably a point or so. But it may be asked if that would have been enought to shift the electoral vote margin in Humphrey's favor. In the electoral vote of 301 for Nixon and 191 for Humphrey, a spread of 110. Humphrey needed only 56 of the 110 to beat Nixon.
In what states did Wallace stand in Humphrey's way to victory? Surprisingly, in not more than two or three states. In California, where Humphrey lost to Nixon, Wallace received nearly seven percent of the vote. Less than half of this, had it gone to Humphrey, would have given Humphrey California's 44 electoral votes. And in Illinois, where Wallace received 8.5 percent of the vote, a shift here too of about 3 percent would have yielded Humphrey another 26 electoral votes and Humphrey would have been elected.
Or take another possibility, as indicated by the votes of Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio. In Missouri Wallace received 11 percent of the popular vote, but a shift of only one point would have closed the very narrow gap between the Nixon and Humphrey votes and added 12 electoral votes to Humphrey's column. In Ohio, where Wallace received 12 percent of the vote, a shift of a little over 2 percent to Humphrey would have given him 26 electoral votes. These minor shifts from Wallace to Humphrey in these three states would have been more than enough to elect Humphrey.
It is of course too early for a firm estimate of Anderson's support on election day. Will he draw more support from otherwise Democratic voters than from Republic? But it is not too early to bear in mind that, if his support comes more from the Republic than the Democratic side, unlike Wallace in 1968 he could help elect the Democratic candidate.