At his blog, Political Arithmetik, Charles Franklin does his usual bang up job analyzing the polling data regarding Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon. Franklin states that the impact of the pardon on the 1976 election is "a question for another day," or in this case, another blogger. I downloaded the NES data for the 1976 election and found that they did ask a question on the pardon:
SHORTLY AFTER TAKING OFFICE, PRESIDENT FORD PARDONED RICHARD NIXON FOR ANY WRONG-DOINGS HE MAY HAVE COMMITTED WHILE HE WAS PRESIDENT. DO YOU THINK THAT FORD SHOULD HAVE PARDONED NIXON?
NES found that 42 percent agreed with the pardon and 57 percent opposed it.
I put together a quick model of the 1976 presidential vote. In addition to the pardon question, I included variables for party ID, ideology, race, income, education, southern residence, whether respondent thought the government was doing a good job on the most important problem facing, and whether the respondent thought the government was doing a poor job of handling unemployment (the most important problem facing the nation, according to respondents). Even controlling for these other factors, the pardon variable was statistically significant (p<.000) and had a strong impact on vote choice. In fact, the impact appears to be larger than any other variable except party identification. In this model, those who opposed the pardon voted 67% for Carter and those that approved of the pardon voted 68% for Ford. Unfortunately for Ford, many more people opposed the pardon than approved it. Had the public even split 50-50 on the pardon, Ford would have likely eked out a narrow victory.