The Elections of 1932 and 1936

Candidates:

1932
Franklin Roosevelt 472
Herbert Hoover 59

1936
Franklin Roosevelt 523
Alf Landon 8

It’s hard for an American president to win reelection during an economic recession.  It’s well nigh on impossible for a president to win reelection in a full-blown depression.  And if the incumbent, however competent, fails to communicate empathy with the plight of the unemployed or otherwise fails to point the way out of the economic crisis, the challenger can win a sweeping victory even if, like Roosevelt in 1932, he fails to say much specifically about what he actually intends to do.  Roosevelt did, of course, embark on an ambitious reform program just after his electoral victory over Herbert Hoover.  And if much of the New Deal was improvised, experimental, and quickly abandoned, Roosevelt’s first term produced most of the few enduring features of America’s social welfare state, including Social Security and bank deposit insurance.  Roosevelt’s activism enabled him to win a record landslide against Alf Landon in 1936 even though the economy had not yet improved dramatically.  An important development in the 1936 election was the dramatic increase in the African American vote for the Democratic Party.  Despite Roosevelt’s alliance with the segregationist Democrat organizations of the South, black Americans who could exercise the franchise (mostly in the North) had benefited from New Deal programs, and voted their pocket books for the Democrats even before the party gave them other reasons to do so with the civil rights planks of 1948 and later.  After Roosevelt’s first victory in 1932, Democrats held the White House for 28 of the next 36 years.

Leave a Reply