1956 United States presidential election
531 members of the Electoral College
266 electoral votes needed to win
|Turnout||60.6% 2.7 pp|
Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Eisenhower/Nixon, blue denotes those won by Stevenson/Kefauver, orange indicates a faithless elector from Alabama cast the electoral vote for Walter B. Jones for President and Herman Talmadge for Vice President. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.
The 1956 United States presidential election was the 43rd quadrennial presidential election. It was held on Tuesday, November 6, 1956. President Dwight D. Eisenhower successfully ran for reelection against Adlai Stevenson, the former Illinois governor whom he had defeated four years earlier.
Eisenhower, who had first become famous for his military leadership in World War II, remained widely popular. A heart attack in 1955 provoked speculation that he would not seek a second term, but his health recovered and he faced no opposition at the 1956 Republican National Convention. Stevenson remained popular with a core of liberal Democrats, but held no office and had no real base. He defeated New York Governor W. Averell Harriman and several other candidates on the first presidential ballot of the 1956 Democratic National Convention. Stevenson called for a significant increase in government spending on social programs and a decrease in military spending.
With the end of the Korean War and a strong economy, few doubted that the charismatic Eisenhower would be reelected. Supporters of the president focused on his "personal qualities ... his sincerity, his integrity and sense of duty, his virtue as a family man, his religious devotion, and his sheer likeableness," rather than on his leadership record. The weeks before the election saw two major international crises in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and Eisenhower's handling of the crises boosted his popularity.
Eisenhower slightly improved on his 1952 majorities in both the popular and electoral vote. He increased his 1952 gains among Democrats, especially Northern Catholics and city-dwelling White Southerners. Although he unusually lost Missouri, which had been a bellwether state for most of the 20th century and had voted for him in the previous election of 1952, he picked up Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia, which had voted against him in the previous election. This was the last presidential election before the admissions of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959, the last presidential election in which both Massachusetts and Minnesota voted Republican, the last election in which any of the major candidates had been born in the 19th century, and the most recent election to have been a rematch of a previous election.
|Dwight D. Eisenhower||Richard Nixon|
|for President||for Vice President|
President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
|Montana Secretary of State|
John W. Bricker
|U.S. Senator from Ohio|
Dwight D. Eisenhower
|President of the United States|
|Governor of South Dakota|
|U.S. Senator from California|
Early in 1956, there was speculation that President Eisenhower would not run for a second term because of concerns about his health. In 1955, Eisenhower had suffered a serious heart attack. However, he soon recovered and decided to run for a second term. (In June 1956 he also underwent surgery for ileitis) Given Eisenhower's enormous popularity, he was renominated with no opposition at the 1956 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, California.
The only question among Republicans was whether Vice President Richard Nixon would again be Eisenhower's running mate. There is some evidence that Eisenhower would have preferred a less controversial running mate, such as Governor Christian Herter of Massachusetts. According to some historians (such as Stephen E. Ambrose), Eisenhower privately offered Nixon another position in his cabinet, such as Secretary of Defense. Harold Stassen was the only Republican to publicly oppose Nixon's re-nomination for vice-president, and Nixon remained highly popular among the Republican rank-and-file voters. Nixon had also reshaped the vice-presidency, using it as a platform to campaign for Republican state and local candidates across the country, and these candidates came to his defense. In the spring of 1956, Eisenhower publicly announced that Nixon would again be his running mate, and Stassen was forced to second Nixon's nomination at the Republican Convention. Unlike 1952, conservative Republicans (who had supported Robert A. Taft against Eisenhower in 1952) did not attempt to shape the platform. At the convention, one delegate voted for a fictitious "Joe Smith" for vice-president to prevent a unanimous vote.
|Adlai Stevenson||Estes Kefauver|
|for President||for Vice President|
Governor of Illinois
|U.S. Senator from Tennessee|
|Former Governor of Illinois|
|U.S. Senator from Tennessee|
W. Averell Harriman
|Governor of New York|
Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic Party's 1952 nominee, fought a tight primary battle with populist Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver for the 1956 nomination. Kefauver won the New Hampshire primary unopposed (though Stevenson won 15% on write-ins). After Kefauver upset Stevenson in the Minnesota primary, Stevenson, realizing that he was in trouble, agreed to debate Kefauver in Florida. Stevenson and Kefauver held the first televised presidential debate on May 21, 1956, before the Florida primary. Stevenson carried Florida by a 52–48% margin. By the time of the California primary in June 1956, Kefauver's campaign had run low on money and could not compete for publicity and advertising with the well-funded Stevenson. Stevenson won the California primary by a 63–37% margin, and Kefauver soon withdrew from the race.
Popular vote results
- Adlai Stevenson - 3,069,504 (50.70%)
- Estes Kefauver - 2,283,172 (37.71%)
- Unpledged - 380,300 (6.28%)
- Frank Lausche - 278,074 (4.59%)
- John William McCormack - 26,128 (0.43%)
Democratic National Convention
At the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, New York Governor W. Averell Harriman, who was backed by former President Harry S. Truman, challenged Stevenson for the nomination. However, Stevenson's delegate lead was much too large for Harriman to overcome, and Stevenson won the nomination on the first ballot.
The roll call, as reported in Richard C. Bain and Judith H. Parris, Convention Decisions and Voting Records, pp. 294–298:
|Presidential balloting, DNC 1956|
|W. Averell Harriman||210|
|Lyndon B. Johnson||80|
|James C. Davis||33|
|John S. Battle||32.5|
|George Bell Timmerman, Jr.||23.5|
|U.S. Senator from Tennessee|
John F. Kennedy
|U.S. Senator from Massachusetts|
Albert Gore Sr.
|U.S. Senator from Tennessee|
Robert F. Wagner Jr.
|Mayor of New York City|
|U.S. Senator from Minnesota|
The highlight of the 1956 Democratic Convention came when Stevenson, to create excitement for the ticket, made the surprise announcement that the convention's delegates would choose his running mate. This set off a desperate scramble among several candidates to win the nomination. Potential vice-presidential candidates had only one hectic day to campaign among the delegates before the voting began. The two leading contenders were Senator Kefauver, who retained the support of his primary delegates, and Senator John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts, who was not well known at the time. Although Stevenson privately preferred Senator Kennedy to be his running mate, he did not attempt to influence the balloting for Kennedy in any way. Kennedy surprised the experts by surging into the lead on the second ballot; at one point, he was only 15 votes shy of winning. However, a number of states then left their "favorite son" candidates and switched to Kefauver, giving him the victory. Kennedy then gave a gracious concession speech. The defeat was a boost for Kennedy's long-term presidential chances: as a serious contender, he gained favorable national publicity, yet by losing to Kefauver he avoided blame for Stevenson's loss to Eisenhower in November. The vote totals in the vice-presidential balloting are recorded in the following table, which also comes from Bain & Parris.
|Vice-Presidential balloting, DNC 1956|
|Ballot||1||2 before shifts||2 after shifts|
|John F. Kennedy||294.5||618||589|
|Albert Gore, Sr.||178||110.5||13.5|
|Robert F. Wagner, Jr.||162.5||9.5||6|
|Luther H. Hodges||40||0.5||0|
|Clinton Presba Anderson||16||0||0|
|Frank G. Clement||14||0||0|
|Lyndon B. Johnson||1||0||0|
Stevenson campaigned hard against Eisenhower, with television ads for the first time being the dominant medium for both sides. Eisenhower's 1952 election victory had been due in large part to winning the female vote; hence, during this campaign there was a plethora of "housewife"-focused ads. Some commentators at the time also argued that television's new prominence was a major factor in Eisenhower's decision to run for a second term at the age of 66, considering his weak health after the heart attack in 1955. Television allowed Eisenhower to reach people across the country without enduring the strain of repeated coast-to-coast travel, making a national campaign more feasible.
Stevenson proposed significant increases in government spending for social programs and treaties with the Soviet Union to lower military spending and end nuclear testing on both sides. He also proposed to end the military draft and switch to an "all-volunteer" military. Eisenhower publicly opposed these ideas, even though in private he was working on a proposal to ban atmospheric nuclear testing. Eisenhower had retained the enormous personal and political popularity he had earned during World War II, and he maintained a comfortable lead in the polls throughout the campaign.
Eisenhower was also helped by his handling of two developing foreign-policy crises that occurred in the weeks before the election. In the Soviet-occupied People's Republic of Hungary, many citizens had risen in revolt in the Revolution of 1956 against Soviet domination, but the Soviets responded by invading the country on October 26. Three days later, a combined force of Israeli, British, and French troops invaded Egypt to topple Gamal Abdel Nasser and seize the recently nationalized Suez Canal. The resolution of the latter crisis rapidly moved to the United Nations, and the Hungarian revolt was brutally crushed within a few days by re-deployed Soviet troops. Eisenhower condemned both actions, but was unable to help Hungary; he did, however, forcefully pressure the western forces to withdraw from Egypt.
While these two events led many Americans to rally in support of the president and swelled his expected margin of victory, the campaign was seen differently by some foreign governments. The Eisenhower administration had also supported the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954; this ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court ended legal segregation in public schools. Meanwhile, Stevenson voiced disapproval about federal court intervention in segregation, saying about Brown that "we don't need reforms or groping experiments." This was an about-face from the national Democratic party platform's endorsement of civil rights in the 1948 campaign. Although Eisenhower "avoid[ed] a clear stand on the Brown decision" during the campaign, in the contest with Stevenson, he won the support of nearly 40% of black voters; he was the last Republican presidential candidate to receive such a level of support from black voters.
Eisenhower led all opinion polls by large margins throughout the campaign. On Election Day Eisenhower took over 57% of the popular vote and won 41 of the 48 states. Stevenson won only six Southern states and the border state of Missouri, becoming the first losing candidate since William Jennings Bryan in 1900 to carry Missouri. Eisenhower carried Louisiana, making him the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state, or any state in the Deep South for that matter, since Rutherford Hayes had done so in 1876 during Reconstruction.
This election was the last in which Massachusetts voted Republican until 1980 and the last in which Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and West Virginia did so until 1972. Conversely this was the last election in which Mississippi voted Democratic until 1976, and is also the last election until 1976 when Alabama gave a majority of its electoral votes to the Democratic candidate.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Percentage||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Electoral vote|
|Dwight David Eisenhower (Incumbent)||Republican||New York||35,579,180||57.37%||457||Richard Milhous Nixon||California||457|
|Adlai Ewing Stevenson II||Democratic||Illinois||26,028,028||41.97%||73||Carey Estes Kefauver||Tennessee||73|
|Thomas Coleman Andrews||States' Rights||Virginia||108,956||0.18%||0||Thomas Harold Werdel||California||0|
|Eric Hass||Socialist Labor||New York||44,300||0.07%||0||Georgia Olive Cozzini||Wisconsin||0|
|Enoch Arden Holtwick||Prohibition||Illinois||41,937||0.07%||0||Edwin M. Cooper||California||0|
|Farrell Dobbs||Socialist Workers||New York||7,797||0.01%||0||Myra Tanner Weiss||California||0|
|Harry Flood Byrd Sr.||States' Rights||Virginia||2,657||<0.01%||0||William Ezra Jenner||Indiana||0|
|Darlington Hoopes||Socialist||Pennsylvania||2,128||<0.01%||0||Samuel Herman Friedman||New York||0|
|Henry B. Krajewski||American Third||New Jersey||1,829||<0.01%||0||Anna Yezo||New Jersey||0|
|Gerald Lyman Kenneth Smith||Christian Nationalist||Michigan||8||<0.01%||0||Charles Robertson||Michigan||0|
|Walter Burgwyn Jones||Democratic||Alabama||—(a)||—(a)||1||Herman Eugene Talmadge||Georgia||1|
|Needed to win||266||266|
Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. "1956 Presidential Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved August 1, 2005.Source (Electoral Vote): "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 1, 2005.
Results by state
|States/districts won by Stevenson/Kefauver|
|States/districts won by Eisenhower/Nixon|
|Dwight D. Eisenhower
|T. Coleman Andrews/Unpledged Electors[a]
Margin of victory less than 1% (24 electoral votes):
- Missouri, 0.22% (3,984 votes)
- Tennessee, 0.62% (5,781 votes)
Margin of victory less than 5% (14 electoral votes):
- North Carolina, 1.33% (15,468 votes)
Margin of victory over 5%, but under 10% (46 electoral votes)
- Arkansas, 6.64% (26,990 votes)
- Minnesota, 7.60% (101,777 votes)
- West Virginia, 8.16% (67,763 votes)
- Washington, 8.47% (97,428 votes)
- Kentucky, 9.09% (95,739 votes)
Tipping point state:
- Florida, 14.54% (163,478 votes)
(a) Alabama faithless elector W. F. Turner, who was pledged to Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver, instead cast his votes for Walter Burgwyn Jones, who was a circuit court judge in Turner's home town, and Herman Talmadge, governor of the neighboring state of Georgia.
Because of the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states in 1959, the 1956 presidential election was the last in which there were 531 electoral votes.
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Republican)
- Gillespie County, Texas 92.61%
- Kenedy County, Texas 92.59%
- Kane County, Utah 90.20%
- Jackson County, Kentucky 88.35%
- Johnson County, Tennessee 87.44%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Democratic)
- Baker County, Georgia 96.07%
- Greene County, North Carolina 93.67%
- Berrien County, Georgia 93.56%
- Atkinson County, Georgia 93.37%
- Madison County, Georgia 93.24%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Other)
- Williamsburg County, South Carolina 73.00%
- Clarendon County, South Carolina 66.88%
- Sumter County, South Carolina 62.00%
- Bamberg County, South Carolina 59.66%
- Calhoun County, South Carolina 58.73%
- 1956 United States gubernatorial elections
- 1956 United States House of Representatives elections
- 1956 United States Senate elections
- History of the United States (1945–1964)
- Second inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Was allied with a slate of unpledged electors in Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina
- "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections". The American Presidency Project. UC Santa Barbara.
- "1956 Electoral College Results". National Archives. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
- Angus Campbell; et al. (1960). The American Voter. p. 56.
- Robert R. Alford, "The role of social class in American voting behavior." Western Political Quarterly 16.1 (1963): 180-194.
- "Stevenson–Kefauver Primary Debate". OurCampaigns.com. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
- Emmet John Hughes, "52,000,000 TV Sets-How Many Votes?" The New York Times, September 25, 1960, SM23
- Borhi, László (1999). "Containment, Rollback, Liberation or Inaction? The United States and Hungary in the 1950s" (PDF). Journal of Cold War Studies. 1 (3): 67–108. doi:10.1162/152039799316976814. Retrieved June 29, 2009. As Vice President Richard Nixon later explained: "We couldn't on one hand, complain about the Soviets intervening in Hungary and, on the other hand, approve of the British and the French picking that particular time to intervene against [Gamel Abdel] Nasser".
- "How Britain France and Israel Got Together". Time. November 12, 1956. Archived from the original on December 14, 2008.
State Department officials are sure that the British and French callously deceived or misled them from this date onward. On October 23 Pineau dashed over to London, reportedly to tell Eden that Israel was all ready to launch preventive war on Nasser. Ben-Gurion's moment was well chosen because, it was reasoned, 1) the U.S. would not dare move decisively against Israel on the verge of a presidential election, and 2) the Hungarian rebellion, then at its height, would keep Russia's hands tied.
- Mickey, Robert (February 19, 2015). Paths Out of Dixie: The Democratization of Authoritarian Enclaves in America's Deep South, 1944-1972. Princeton University Press. p. 187. ISBN 9780691149639.
- Schickler, Eric (April 26, 2016). Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932-1965. Princeton University Press. p. 245. ISBN 9781400880973.
- "1956 Presidential General Election Data - National". Retrieved March 18, 2013.
- "1956 Presidential General Election Data - National". Retrieved March 18, 2013.
- Leip, Dave. "1956 Presidential Election - Home States". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Archived from the original on September 18, 2008. Retrieved May 24, 2005.
- "Electoral Votes for President and Vice President 1953–1965". U.S. Electoral College. National Archives. Retrieved March 18, 2006.
- Campaign commercials from the 1956 election
- Senate Manual, 107th Congress. United States Government Printing Office. 2001. p. 1131. Retrieved March 18, 2006.
- "General Election Returns: November 6, 1956". Maryland Manual. 167: 325. 1957–58.
- "Republican Party National Convention. (26th : 1956 : San Francisco)". Library of Congress Online Catalog. Library of Congress. Retrieved February 28, 2007.
- Converse, Philip E., Warren E. Miller, Donald E. Stokes, Angus Campbell. The American Voter (1964) the classic political science study of voters in 1952 and 1956
- Divine, Robert A. (1974). Foreign Policy and U.S. Presidential Elections, 1952–1960. ISBN 0-531-06496-4.
- Gallup, George H., ed. (1972). The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935–1971. 3 vols. Random House. ISBN 0-394-47270-5. vol 2
- Martin, John Bartlow. Adlai Stevenson and the World: The Life of Adlai E. Stevenson (1977).
- Nichols, David A. Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis--Suez and the Brink of War (2012).
- Gallup, George H., ed. The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935–1971. 3 vols. Random House, 1972. press releases;
- Gallup, George H., ed. (1972). The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935–1971. 3 vols. Random House.
- Chester, Edward W A guide to political platforms (1977) online
- Porter, Kirk H. and Donald Bruce Johnson, eds. National party platforms, 1840-1964 (1965) online 1840-1956
- The Election Wall's 1956 Election Video Page
- 1956 popular vote by counties
- The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials: 1952 – 2004
- How close was the 1956 election? — Michael Sheppard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Eisenhower's 1956 presidential campaign, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
- A film clip It's Ike and Nixon! 1956/08/23 (1956)" is available at the Internet Archive
- A film clip Landslide for Eisenhower, 1956/11/08 (1956)" is available at the Internet Archive
- A film clip Eisenhower Re-Elected, 1956/11/05 (1956)" is available at the Internet Archive
- Election of 1956 in Counting the Votes Archived June 9, 2019, at the Wayback Machine