All the President’s Men (1976): Impact on Politics

Not only has All the President’s Men become one of the most commercially successful political films in history, it has also had the greatest effect of any Hollywood film on changes within the politics of America. Released in 1976, during the Carter-Ford presidential campaign, All the President’s helped to turn the tide in Carter’s favor. Viewing the film upon its initial release in April 1976, Boston Mayor Kevin White remarked, “That film is going to have an effect on the election, it is powerful.” But can we really attribute Ford’s defeat primarily to All the President’s Was the film actually that powerful Ronald Reagan thought so. Reagan, who in 1976 was the governor of California, recognized the film’s power, confessing that All the President’s had indeed cost the Republicans the presidency.

All the President’s brought to the surface all the implications of Watergate that the Republicans had tried hard to bury in the months leading up to the campaign. The film taught politicians a lesson they will not soon forget–a lesson about how far Americans will go in believing movies. When the release of the John Glenn homage The Right Stuff coincided with Democrat Glenn’s 1984 presidential bid, 8 years after All the President’s, the Republican Party became paranoid. We can attribute this reaction to the Republicans’ unpleasant memories of how All the President’s hurt them in 1976, having a massive effect on American votes and thus on the course of the entire nation. Screenwriter William Goldman went so far as to say that All the President’s “just might have changed the entire course of American history.”

There’s evidence to back up Goldman’s claim: A variety of sociological studies have attempted to pinpoint the film’s influence on voters in 1976. They suggest that the film functioned, at a crucial juncture in American history, to clarify the confusing, unprecedented events of Watergate for American citizens.

All the President’s has become an historical document, an official version of the Watergate scandal. The film was made quickly after Watergate had ended, during the lingering aftermath of Nixon’s resignation. Pre-production, on the part of Robert Redford, actually began during the Watergate trials. All the President’s hit before the issue had the chance to become anything like dry textbook history. Americans were still trying to figure out all the ramifications of what had happened. New information about the extent of the Nixon administration’s blunders, as well, was still surfacing day-by-day back in 1976.

Michael Robinson, in his study “American Political Legitimacy,” found out that Americans had already made up their minds about Watergate, and even thought they knew as much as they wanted to about Watergate, before the film’s release. Yet Watergate was still really a fresh event. The storm of Watergate hadn’t completely settled in the people’s minds. At this moment, All the President’s had a special way of summarizing, reinforcing and clarifying the current American experience, while pushing people further in their inclinations about Watergate. The film confirmed that what had happened was real, while solidifying the people’s minds even more about the evils of “Big Government” and political corruption.

By 1976, as Robinson notes in his study “Public Opinion During the Watergate Crisis,” the level of governmental trust had decreased significantly, due specifically to the media coverage of Watergate. But All the President’s sent the level of trust to an all-time low, as Elliot and Schenck-Hamlin show in their study of All the President’s effect during the election year. The increase in political alienation that the film caused is what allowed Carter to win. Or was it really Robert Redford that won the election

The film was released on April 7, 1976, and did good business from the start. All the President’s enjoyed a long run, which coincided with the election campaign, and thus secured Carter as president. Included in the film is footage of Representative Gerald Ford nominating Nixon at the 1972 Republican National Convention, which clearly associated Ford with Nixon as a Nixon dupe in 1976. Gerald Ford was an unwilling cameo star in a film that insured his failure. In a way, All the President’s Men was a full-length Hollywood commercial against Ford’s campaign. Subsequently, the very first film screened in the Carter Whitehouse was none other than All the President’s.