United States presidential election, 1936
|Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Landon/Knox, Blue denotes those won by Roosevelt/Garner. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.|
The United States presidential election of 1936 was the 38th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 3, 1936. In terms of electoral votes, it was the most lopsided presidential election in the history of the United States. In terms of the popular vote, it was the second-biggest victory for the winner since the election of 1820, which was not seriously contested.
The election took place as the Great Depression entered its eighth year. Incumbent President and Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt was still working to push the provisions of his New Deal economic policy through Congress and the courts. However, the New Deal policies he had already enacted, such as Social Security and unemployment benefits, had proven to be highly popular with most Americans. Roosevelt's Republican opponent was Governor Alf Landon of Kansas, a political moderate.
Although some political pundits predicted a close race, Roosevelt went on to win the greatest electoral landslide since the beginning of the current two-party system in the 1850s. Roosevelt carried every state except Maine and Vermont, which together could only return 8 electoral votes. By winning 523 electoral votes, Roosevelt received 98.49% of the electoral vote, the highest percentage since the uncontested election of 1820. Roosevelt also won the largest number of electoral votes ever recorded at that time, so far only surpassed by Ronald Reagan in the election of 1984, when there were 7 more electoral votes available to contest. In addition, Roosevelt won 60.8% of the national popular vote, the second highest popular-vote percentage won since 1820 (the highest percentage was won by Lyndon Johnson in 1964).
Republican Party nomination
The 1936 Republican National Convention was held in Cleveland, Ohio, between June 9 and 12. Although many candidates sought the Republican nomination, only two, Governor Landon and Senator William Borah of Idaho, were considered to be serious candidates. While favorite sons County Attorney Earl Warren of California, Governor Warren Green of South Dakota, and Stephen A. Day of Ohio won their respective primaries, the 70-year-old Borah, a well-known progressive and "insurgent," won the Wisconsin, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Oregon primaries, while also performing quite strongly in Knox's Illinois and Green's South Dakota. The party machinery almost uniformly backed Landon, however, a wealthy businessman and centrist, who won primaries in Massachusetts and New Jersey and dominated in the caucuses and at state party conventions.
With Knox withdrawing as Landon's selection for vice-president (after the rejection of New Hampshire Governor Styles Bridges) and Day, Green, and Warren releasing their delegates, the tally at the convention was as follows:
- Alf Landon 984
- William Borah 19
Democratic Party nomination
President Roosevelt faced only one primary opponent other than various favorite sons. Henry Skillman Breckinridge, an anti-New Deal lawyer from New York, filed to run against Roosevelt in four primaries. Breckinridge's challenge of the popularity of the New Deal among Democrats failed miserably. In New Jersey, President Roosevelt did not file for the preference vote and lost that primary to Breckinridge, even though he did receive 19% of the vote on write-ins. Roosevelt's candidates for delegates swept the race in New Jersey and elsewhere. In other primaries, Breckinridge's best showing was 15% in Maryland. Overall, Roosevelt received 93% of the primary vote, compared to 2% for Breckinridge.
The Democratic Party Convention was held in Philadelphia between July 23 and 27. The delegates unanimously re-nominated incumbents President Roosevelt and Vice-President John Nance Garner. At Roosevelt's request, the two-thirds rule, which had given the South a veto power, was repealed.
|Presidential ballot||Vice-presidential ballot|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt||1100||John Nance Garner||1100|
Many people expected Huey Long, the colorful Democratic senator from Louisiana, to run as a third-party candidate with his "Share Our Wealth" program as his platform. However, he was assassinated in September 1935. It was later revealed by historian and Long biographer T. Harry Williams that Long had never, in fact, intended to run for the presidency in 1936. Instead, he had been plotting with Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest and populist talk radio personality, to run someone else on the soon-to-be-formed "Share Our Wealth" Party ticket. According to Williams, the idea was that this candidate would split the left-wing vote with President Roosevelt, thereby electing a Republican president and proving the electoral appeal of Share Our Wealth. Long would then wait four years and run for president as a Democrat in 1940.
Prior to Long's death, leading contenders for the role of the sacrificial 1936 candidate included Senators Burton K. Wheeler (D-Montana) and William Borah, and Governor Floyd B. Olson of the Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party. After the assassination, however, the two senators lost interest in the idea and Olson was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer.
Father Coughlin, who had allied himself with Dr. Francis Townsend, a left-wing political activist who was pushing for the creation of an old-age pension system, and Rev. Gerald L. K. Smith, was eventually forced to run Congressman William Lemke (R-North Dakota) as the candidate of the newly created "Union Party". Lemke, who lacked the charisma and national stature of the other potential candidates, fared poorly in the election, barely managing 2% of the vote, and the party was dissolved the following year.
The election was held on November 3, 1936.
This election is notable for The Literary Digest poll, which was based on 10 million questionnaires mailed to readers and potential readers; 2.3 million were returned. The Literary Digest, which had correctly predicted the winner of the last 5 elections, announced in its October 31 issue that Landon would be the winner with 370 electoral votes. The cause of this mistake has often been attributed to improper sampling: more Republicans subscribed to the Literary Digest than Democrats, and were thus more likely to vote for Landon than Roosevelt. However, a 1976 article in The American Statistician demonstrates that the actual reason for the error was that the Literary Digest relied on voluntary responses. As the article explains, the 2.3 million "respondents who returned their questionnaires represented only that subset of the population with a relatively intense interest in the subject at hand, and as such constitute in no sense a random sample... it seems clear that the minority of anti-Roosevelt voters felt more strongly about the election than did the pro-Roosevelt majority." A more detailed study in 1988 showed that both the initial sample and non-response bias were contributing factors, and that the error due to the initial sample taken alone would not have been sufficient to predict the Landon victory. This mistake by the Literary Digest proved to be devastating to the magazine's credibility, and in fact the magazine went out of existence within a few months of the election.
That same year, George Gallup, an advertising executive who had begun a scientific poll, predicted that Roosevelt would win the election, based on a quota sample of 50,000 people. He also predicted that the Literary Digest would mis-predict the results. His correct predictions made public opinion polling a critical element of elections for journalists and indeed for politicians. The Gallup Poll would become a staple of future presidential elections, and remains one of the most prominent election polling organizations.
Roosevelt won by a landslide, carrying 46 of the 48 states and bringing in many additional Democratic members of Congress. After fellow Democrat Lyndon Johnson's 61.1% share of the popular vote in 1964, Roosevelt's 60.8% is the second-largest percentage in U.S. history since the nearly unopposed election of James Monroe in 1820, and his 98.5% of the electoral vote is the highest in two-party competition. Roosevelt won the largest number of electoral votes ever recorded at that time, so far only surpassed by Ronald Reagan in 1984, when 7 more electoral votes were available to contest. Landon became the second official major-party candidate since the current system was established to win fewer than ten electoral votes by tying fellow Republican William Howard Taft, who won 8 votes in his 1912 re-election campaign. No major-party candidate has won so few electoral votes since this election. The closest anyone has come was Reagan's 1984 opponent, Walter Mondale, who only won 13 electoral votes.
Some political pundits predicted the Republicans, whom many voters blamed for the Great Depression, would soon become an extinct political party. However, the Republicans would make a strong comeback in the 1938 congressional elections and would remain a potent force in Congress, although they were not able to win the presidency again until 1952.
The Electoral College results, in which Landon only won Maine and Vermont, inspired Democratic Party chairman James Farley, who had in fact declared during the campaign that FDR was to lose only these two states, to amend the then-conventional political wisdom of "As Maine goes, so goes the nation" into "As goes Maine, so goes Vermont." Additionally, a prankster posted a sign on Vermont's border with New Hampshire the day after the 1936 election, reading: "You are now leaving the United States." Some of Roosevelt's advisers even joked that America's fiscal woes might be best solved if he offered to sell Vermont and Maine to Canada.
As of 2012, even after many years as a classic "blue" state that usually supports Democratic presidential candidates, Vermont has voted for more Republican presidential nominees than any other state. From 1856 through 1960, Vermont gave the state's electoral votes to the Republican Party nominee in every presidential election. No other state has voted so many times in a row for candidates of the same political party. Maine once held a similar political record. From 1856 through 1960, Maine voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential election but one (in 1912, the state gave Democrat Woodrow Wilson a plurality with 39.43% of the vote). Another state that had been reliably Republican for a very long time up to 1936 was Pennsylvania. Roosevelt was the first Democrat to carry Pennsylvania since "favorite son" James Buchanan did so in 1856.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Pct||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Elect. vote|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt||Democratic||New York||27,752,648||60.80%||523||John Nance Garner||Texas||523|
|Alf Landon||Republican||Kansas||16,681,862||36.54%||8||Frank Knox||Illinois||8|
|William Lemke||Union||North Dakota||892,378||1.95%||0||Thomas C. O'Brien||Massachusetts||0|
|Norman Thomas||Socialist||New York||187,910||0.41%||0||George A. Nelson||Wisconsin||0|
|Earl Browder||Communist||Kansas||79,315||0.17%||0||James W. Ford||New York||0|
|D. Leigh Colvin||Prohibition||New York||37,646||0.08%||0||Claude A. Watson||California||0|
|John W. Aiken||Socialist Labor||Connecticut||12,799||0.03%||0||Emil F. Teichert||New York||0|
|Needed to win||266||266|
Results by state
|States won by Roosevelt/Garner|
|States won by Landon/Knox|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt
Margin of victory less than 5% (4 electoral votes):
- New Hampshire, 1.75%
Margin of victory between 5% and 10% (29 electoral votes):
- Kansas, 7.72%
- Massachusetts, 9.46%
- Delaware, 9.77%
- History of the United States (1918–1945)
- United States Senate elections, 1936
- Second inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Our Campaigns – US President – D Primaries Race – Feb 01, 1936
- Bryson, Maurice C. "The Literary Digest Poll: Making of a Statistical Myth." The American Statistician, 30(4):November 1976
- Squire, Peverill "Why the 1936 Literary Digest Poll Failed" Public Opinion Quarterly, 52:125–133 1988
- "1936 Presidential General Election Data - National". Retrieved April 8, 2013.
- Andersen, Kristi. The Creation of a Democratic Majority: 1928–1936 (1979), statistical
- Burns, James MacGregor. Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1956)
- Communist Party USA, The Communist Election Platform, 1936. New York: Workers Library Publishers, 1936.
- Fadely, James Philip. "Editors, Whistle Stops, and Elephants: the Presidential Campaign of 1936 in Indiana." Indiana Magazine of History 1989 85(2): 101–137. Issn: 0019-6673
- Leuchtenburg, William E. "Election of 1936", in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., A History of American Presidential Elections vol 3 (1971), analysis and primary documents
- McCoy, Donald. Landon of Kansas (1968)
- Nicolaides, Becky M. "Radio Electioneering in the American Presidential Campaigns of 1932 and 1936," Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, June 1988, Vol. 8 Issue 2, pp. 115–138
- Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M. The Politics of Upheaval (1960)
- 1936 popular vote by counties
- How close was the 1936 election? — Michael Sheppard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology