"Most of the Democrats were expecting to lose but no by so much."
Tuesday. Election Day, 1972. I almost forgot what day it was. But as three of us in the hallway waiting for the class before our class to end, I'm reminded of the election.
"You think McGovern has a chance?" This student with kinky blonde hair breaks the ice. Nobody answers. "I heard on an L.A. radio station last night there was this poll the took in L.A. last night and McGovern was ahead of Nixon."
George McGovern. The editor said it seemed like Spring of 1970 was the last real gasp of of widespread political interest. Since then, things had been "real quiet."
Another guy with a hollow face and dark glasses, who all this time had been plucking a little musical instrument which had fingers like the music of a and produced random oriental music, mumbles something.
"What?" (the blonde kid).
"I just said I hope 19 — marijuana — passes."
"Yeah, I do too. But I don't think it stands a chance."
"I'd rather have it win than McGovern."
"Well, I'd rather have it win in California than McGovern, if McGovern's going to lose nationally.... Thing is if Nixon wins, we're all going to need marijuana for the next four years."
"People I talked to thought Nixon had used the peace treaty as a gimmick to win the election. They saw the war dragging on another four years."
The figures at the County Registrar of Voters indicate that most students in San Diego voted for McGovern. The McGovern majority among students, however, wasn't overwhelming. The heaviest majorities were at the polling places in Muir and Revelle Commons at UCSD where McGovern pummeled Nixon 231-62 and 307-98, respectively. Most other campus precincts were less decisive; at the polling place in the USD library it was McGovern 128 and Nixon 112. And at San Diego State Nixon even won a majority of two of the college neighborhood precincts. So, When you start to analyze the post-election mood on the campuses in San Diego, you have to realize not everyone was disappointed by the returns.
I asked the girl who answered the phone at the student government office at San Diego State what the post-election mood at State was. She said she didn't know; I'd have to call the student newspaper, the Daily Aztec. Two staffers at the Aztec, Bill Hastings and Clare Farnsworth said most people there were pessimistic. Farnsworth amplified:
"People I talked to thought Nixon had used the peace treaty as a gimmick to win the election. They saw the war dragging on another four years. The campus is pretty quiet except for a demonstration by the Railroad Committee at the Administration Building.... Most people are pretty depressed; they don't know what to do in the face of a such a landslide."
In another phone call to San Diego State, I was offered the explanation by Associated Student Council member Jim Crawford that it was even quiet on campus before the election, that "things were pretty lively last spring, but after the nomination and the Eagleton affair were botched, enthusiasm fell." Crawford said that nothing had really happened on campus since the election.
Rather than call the people at UCSD, I decided to visit the office of the Triton Times, the official campus paper, personally. A friendly staff member who later, identified himself as copy editor, said he was a Democrat, but like "most of his Christian friends" he voted for Nixon. He claimed that the most general attitude at UCSD, before and after the election, was apathy. The Triton Times staff, however, was heavily McGovern and there was a sense of despair with them and most people coming in and out of the office, he noted.
The University of San Diego student government office, like the other San Diego student governments seemed to wan to abdicate the role of campus spokesman to the campus paper. This time is was the Vista, and the staffer who answered the phone echoed the mixture of disappointment and apathy on the part of most of the students. "Most of the Democrats were expecting to lose but no by so much," she said matter-of-factly. "What's happening now? Well, not much. Oh, yeah, the Mobilization Committee sent us a notice about some meeting, but I know nobody went..."
The Copy Editor of the paper at UCSD and I talked for some time about the cooling down on the campus, and why the McGovern feeling hadn't been overwhelming. He said it seemed like Spring of 1970 was the last real gasp of of widespread political interest. Since then, things had been "real quiet." I began to think about Vietnamization, or maybe dope use, or maybe even the revival of Christianity as possible explanations for this political apathy. (He had been telling me how there were some 40 members of Campus Crusade for Christ at UCSD, several hundred at State.) But perhaps these things, too, were mere symptoms of a general reaction throughout American society, students included, against the electric, politicized atmosphere of the Sixties. And perhaps McGovern and the student support he had, were up against something bigger than they were.