Johnson Is Elected President

Lyndon B. Johnson—the incumbent candidate for president, having taken office following the assassination of President Kennedy the previous year—won the election. His first full term in office marked the escalation of both the Great Society programs and the Vietnam War.

Summary of Event

On November 22, 1963, at approximately 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, as the motorcade of President John F. Kennedy passed the Texas School Book Depository Building, shots rang out that brought an abrupt end to the tenure of the young leader and catapulted Lyndon B. Johnson into the nation’s highest office. The fifty-five-year-old Johnson had accepted the vice presidential nomination in 1960 to the surprise of his friends, who had not expected him to give up his powerful position as Senate majority leader. Johnson gave up his Senate seat and helped the Democratic ticket to win a very narrow victory in 1960. Presidency, U.S.;Lyndon B. Johnson[Johnson]
Presidential elections, U.S.;1964
[kw]Johnson Is Elected President (Nov. 3, 1964)
[kw]President, Johnson Is Elected (Nov. 3, 1964)
Presidency, U.S.;Lyndon B. Johnson[Johnson]
Presidential elections, U.S.;1964
[g]North America;Nov. 3, 1964: Johnson Is Elected President[08250]
[g]United States;Nov. 3, 1964: Johnson Is Elected President[08250]
[c]Government and politics;Nov. 3, 1964: Johnson Is Elected President[08250]
Johnson, Lyndon B.
[p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;1964 presidential elections
Humphrey, Hubert H.
[p]Humphrey, Hubert H.;1964 presidential elections
Goldwater, Barry
Miller, William E.
Rockefeller, Nelson A.

As the new president, Johnson compiled an outstanding legislative record in the year after Kennedy’s assassination. Most of the dead president’s programs were enacted under the shrewd leadership of Johnson, and the new leader added legislation of his own. By the summer of 1964, Johnson had an impressive list of accomplishments to present to the voters. There was little doubt that he would be nominated by his own party.

The Republican Republican Party, U.S. situation was less certain. The early favorites for the Republican nomination—Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York—were upset in the New Hampshire primary by write-in candidate Henry Cabot Lodge Lodge, Henry Cabot, Jr. , Jr., ambassador to South Vietnam. Goldwater was hurt by his statements favoring voluntary participation in Social Security and the granting to commanders in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of the right to use nuclear weapons at their discretion. Rockefeller was damaged politically by his divorce and subsequent remarriage.

The Lodge boom stalled when Rockefeller won the Oregon primary, and the contest again boiled down to a choice between Goldwater and Rockefeller in the California primary. Goldwater needed to prove his voter appeal with a victory, and when he won by a narrow margin, his nomination was virtually assured.

The Republican convention, meeting in San Francisco in mid-July, was dominated from beginning to end by the Goldwater forces. A last-minute Stop Goldwater movement, led by Pennsylvania governor William W. Scranton Scranton, William W. , failed dismally. The conservative wing of the Republican Party had finally achieved control, and it had no intention of settling for half-measures. A conservative party platform called for limited, frugal, and efficient government, with an end to deficit spending and a reduction in taxation. It also called for a dynamic strategy aimed at victory abroad.

In keeping with the no-compromise temper of the conservatives, Goldwater selected Representative William E. Miller of New York, a little-known conservative, as his running mate. Goldwater was determined to offer “a choice, not an echo”—a chance for voters to repudiate the New Deal policies that had dominated U.S. politics since 1933. In accepting the Republican nomination, Goldwater made the most widely quoted statement of the campaign—a statement that Democrats would use against him: “. . . extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice . . . moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” To many U.S. voters, this statement linked Goldwater irrevocably with the extremists he refused to disavow.

Meeting in late August, the Democratic National Convention Democratic Party, U.S. in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was anticlimactic. Johnson controlled the convention completely and, although some sympathy existed for naming Robert F. Kennedy the vice presidential nominee, Johnson chose Minnesota senator Hubert H. Humphrey, a longtime liberal. The Democratic platform endorsed Johnson’s Great Society programs. It also condemned both right-wing and left-wing extremists, in an obvious slap at Goldwater.

The campaign itself lacked drama. The question was not whether Johnson would win but by how much. As international tensions increased, so did Johnson’s margin of victory. With the Soviet Union’s ouster of Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev on October 15 and China’s detonation of its first nuclear device on October 16, Johnson’s election was assured. The American people were uneasy about international affairs in the nuclear age, and they feared Goldwater’s extreme conservatism. On November 3, 1964, Johnson received the largest popular vote ever given a presidential candidate up to that time; he swamped Goldwater forty-three million votes to twenty-seven million. The electoral vote was 486 to 52, with Goldwater carrying only five Deep South states and his native Arizona. The Democratic sweep extended to every level. The Democrats gained thirty-eight seats in the House, two in the Senate, and more than five hundred in state legislatures around the country. The Republican conservatives had had their day, with dismal electoral results.


Given the resounding popular mandate that kept him in office, Johnson set forth the goals of the Great Society Great Society in his state of the union State of the union address;1965 message in January, 1965. The Great Society—a term first used by Johnson at the University of Michigan in May, 1964—was to include medical care for the aged, a war on poverty, an end to pollution, solutions to urban and housing problems, and—the keystone of the Great Society—educational opportunities for all. Johnson’s legislative successes in his promised program would be exceptional, but the Great Society would founder on foreign shores as an unpopular war in Southeast Asia dissipated the energies of domestic reform. Faced with the choice of “guns or butter,” U.S. citizens increasingly became disillusioned with both costly social activism and foreign intervention that would leave the U.S. economy reeling and the political system in controversy. Johnson would not seek election for a second full term, and the eight years following his presidency were marked by the rise and fall of Republican president Richard M. Nixon. Presidency, U.S.;Lyndon B. Johnson[Johnson]
Presidential elections, U.S.;1964

Further Reading

  • Chafe, William H. The Unfinished Journey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. An early post-Cold War examination of the tumultuous period following World War II.
  • Dallek, Robert. Lone Star Rising. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. A revealing portrait of Lyndon Johnson’s political rise.
  • Gettleman, Marvin E., ed. The Great Society Reader. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976. A documentary treatment of Johnson’s domestic policies.
  • Johnson, Lyndon B. The Vantage Point. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971. The former president explains his hopes for the Great Society and his motivation for expanding the Vietnam War.
  • Patterson, James F. America’s Struggle Against Poverty, 1900-1980. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. Traces the nation’s century-long effort to eradicate poverty.
  • White, Theodore H. The Making of the President, 1964. New York: Atheneum, 1965. A journalist chronicles Johnson’s landslide victory over Goldwater.
  • Woods, Randall B. LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. New York: Free Press, 2006. Massive, one-thousand-page biography detailing every aspect of Johnson’s life, career, and presidency. Bibliographic references and index.

President Kennedy Is Assassinated

Lady Bird Johnson Begins the America Beautiful Program

Johnson Announces War on Poverty

Kennedy-Johnson Tax Cuts Stimulate the U.S. Economy

Congress Passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Johnson Signs the Medicare and Medicaid Amendments

Johnson Restricts Direct Foreign Investment

Johnson Establishes North Cascades National Park