1932 German presidential election

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1932 German presidential election

← 1925 13 March 1932 (first round)
10 April 1932 (second round)
1949 (West) →
  A gray-haired man with a Prussian mustache and a buzz cut dressed in military garb viewed from his left with the man looking straight on. A black-haired man with a toothbrush mustache wearing a suit with a double-breasted jacket viewed 3/4 from his right. A determined-looking man wearing a black newsboy cap viewed 3/4 from his left.
Nominee Paul von Hindenburg Adolf Hitler Ernst Thälmann
Party Independent
(DZSPD endorsement)
Popular vote 19,359,983 13,418,517 3,706,759
Percentage 53.0% 36.8% 10.2%

Reichspräsidentenwahl 1932 zweiter Wahlgang.svg
Results of the second round, by candidates with largest share of votes in percent, according to constituencies.

President before election

Paul von Hindenburg


Paul von HindenburgTh

The 1932 German presidential election was held on 13 March, with a runoff round on 10 April.[1] Independent incumbent Paul von Hindenburg won a second seven-year term against Adolf Hitler of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Communist Party (KPD) leader Ernst Thälmann also ran and received more than ten percent of the vote in the runoff. Stahlhelm leader Theodor Duesterberg ran in the first round but dropped out of the runoff. This was the second and final direct election to the office of President of the Reich (Reichspräsident), Germany's head of state under the Weimar Republic.

Under the contemporary Weimar Republic, which had arisen from Germany's defeat in World War I, the presidency was a powerful office. Although the Weimar Constitution had provided for a semi-presidential republic, structural weaknesses had resulted in a paralyzed Reichstag and this combined with the Great Depression resulted in a government that had governed exclusively via presidential decrees since March 1930, giving the President much power. Hindenburg had been elected to the office in 1925 with the support of a coalition of several parties on the right who hoped that he would overturn the Weimar Republic, which was never particularly popular.

The NSDAP, whose members were known as "Nazis", had risen from being a fringe group to the second-largest party in the Reichstag. Led by Hitler, who exercised sole control over its policy and direction, its ideology combined extreme hostility towards the Weimar Republic with fervent antisemitism and German nationalism. Hindenburg, who deeply distrusted and personally detested Hitler, had been motivated to run for a second term primarily by a desire to stop Hitler from winning the presidency.[citation needed] The threat of Hitler caused many on the left to support Hindenburg; at the same time, Hindenburg's failure to overturn the Weimar Republic had disappointed many of them who had supported him in 1925. The combined effect of these two influences resulted in a reversal of those who supported Hindenburg between the two elections. Some on the left were still lukewarm towards Hindenburg; the Communists exploited this by running Thälmann and promoting him as "the only left candidate". Hindenburg failed to receive the requisite majority of votes in the first round, but was able to win reelection in the runoff.

Hindenburg's reelection failed to prevent the NSDAP from assuming power. Two successive federal elections later that year left it as the largest party in the Reichstag and anti-Weimar parties in the majority. Under this political climate, Hindenburg reluctantly[citation needed] appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Upon Hindenburg's death in 1934 Hitler de facto assumed the presidency, which he combined with the chancellorship to become the Führer und Reichskanzler. This would be the last presidential election in what would become West Germany until 1949. It remains as of 2019 the last direct election of the German President.


World War I had resulted in the collapse of the monarchical German Empire. In its place arose the Weimar Republic, named for the city in which its constitution had been drafted. It was never particularly popular among the various groups that constituted its political landscape, being at best tolerated by pro-democratic parties and at worst detested by extremists. The Weimar Constitution provided for presidential elections once every seven years. However, Friedrich Ebert, who had served as temporary president, continued to serve without an election, as the Republic was felt to be sufficiently fragile that the risk of an anti-republican candidate winning the presidency was too great to have an election in 1919.[2] Ebert died suddenly in 1925, necessitating an election to be held that year, a year earlier than scheduled.

Paul von Hindenburg, the commander of the German military during the war, had won the 1925 election. The republic had been devastated by the Great Depression, to the point where rule with the consent of the Reichstag had become all but impossible by March 1930, when Chancellor Hermann Müller was replaced with Heinrich Brüning, who used the Presidential powers to rule by decree, bypassing the Reichstag. This was received positively by many conservatives who disliked democratic government, who supported Hindenburg's reelection to further this conservative renaissance.[3]

The German Workers Party (DAP) was founded in 1919, and World War I corporal Adolf Hitler joined it later that year.[4] Hitler would become the party's leader in 1921,[5] by which time it had been renamed the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP).[6] Although the DAP and NSDAP had originally been a largely democratic organization, it had reorganized at Hitler's behest to give him dictatorial powers in 1921;[5] Hitler's preeminent position and infallibility within the party was confirmed in 1926 at a conference where the party's ideals were ruled immutable.[7] A fringe group for most of the 1920s, the NSDAP, whose members were colloquially known as "Nazis", was brought to public attention on the German right by a referendum against the Young Plan in 1929 where it had been associated with and aided by Alfred Hugenberg's mainstream German National People's Party (DNVP),[8] dramatically increasing its number of seats in the Reichstag in the 1930 federal election.[9] Despite becoming a German citizen (and thus eligible for public office) only on 25 February 1932, Hitler hoped to use the presidency to overturn the Weimar Constitution and establish a dictatorship.[citation needed]

First round[edit]

Hugenberg (left) and Duesterberg on a DNVP election rally in the Berlin Sportpalast, March 1932

Brüning had developed plans to evade direct elections by a Reichstag resolution to extend Hindenburg's time in office[10] and arranged significant concessions to be made to the NSDAP and DNVP. However, both party leaders, unified in the Harzburg Front alliance of October 1931, rejected his proposals.

Hindenburg's cadre, led by Major General Kurt von Schleicher, courted the militant right's support of another Hindenburg candidacy.[10] However, Hugenberg persuaded the Stahlhelm to reject such proposals while the NSDAP supported Hitler's campaign.[10] This lack of support made Hindenburg reluctant to run for reelection, which worried both people who wished to preserve the Republic and those who supported Brüning's style of rule by decree.[10] Heinrich Sahm of Berlin approached Schleicher with the possibility of forming a reelection committee for Hindenburg; Schleicher attempted to postpone Sahm's goal pending talks with the Stahlhelm, but as more Hindenburg committees were set up across the country and the prospect of a Hitler candidacy rose Schleicher and Meissner approved the project on 27 January, and the committee was organized on 1 February.[11] Hindenburg insisted on the support of veterans' organizations; with the begrudging support of the Stahlhelm[a] and the unconditional support of the Kyffhäuser League, and the fact that Sahm's committee had obtained more than 3 million signatures for Hindenburg in two weeks, gave Hindenburg enough motivation to run for reelection,[11] declaring his candidacy on 16 February.[12] Among those who signed the petition were the writer Gerhart Hauptmann, painter Max Liebermann, Artur Mahraun, leader of the Young German Order, the industrialist Carl Duisberg, as well as the former ministers Otto Gessler and Gustav Noske.

Hitler was hesitant to run given Hindenburg's popularity and the fact that the NSDAP was still not the biggest party in the Reichstag.[13] However, the Nazis were rapidly growing in popularity throughout late 1931, and Hitler was able to persuade industrialists that Nazism was compatible with capitalism.[13]

Campaign and endorsements[edit]

The liberal German People's Party and the German State Party declared their support for Hindenburg. The Social Democratic leaders Ernst Heilmann and Otto Braun (himself a candidate in the 1925 election) despite the initial resistance of the party's left wing, were able to launch a broad electoral campaign and received the support of the Iron Front alliance, including the democratic Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold association, the Free Trade Unions (ADGB, AfA-Bund) and the Arbeiter-Turn- und Sportbund organization.

In view of the threat of Hitler, the Social Democrats and Brüning's Centre Party would support Hindenburg – in contrast to the 1925 presidential election, when the non-partisan had been the candidate of the political right and had been strenuously opposed by much of the moderate left and political centre. In 1932 this part of the political spectrum decided to unite with the moderate right in supporting Hindenburg to prevent Hitler's election. The support of the moderate Weimar Coalition was also encouraged by the fact that, contrary to fears expressed at the time of his election in 1925, Hindenburg had not used his office to subvert the constitution, as Hitler now aimed to do. This put Hindenburg's conservative supporters in a difficult position, as their desire for a return to conservatism was at odds with Hindenburg's newfound pro-democracy supporters; indeed, Hindenburg's failure to completely break from the Weimar system would prove a damper on those who had supported him in 1925.[12] Among those who had voted for Hindenburg in 1925 and refused to sign his petition were banker Walter Bernhard, Leipzig mayor Carl Goerdeler, and war hero August von Mackensen.[12]

On the far-right, the Harzburg Front collapsed, when the DNVP nominated the Stahlhelm leader Theodor Duesterberg as its own candidate. Duesterberg immediately faced a massive defamation campaign by the National Socialists, who, however, still had to procure German citizenship for Hitler. The problem was settled (in the second attempt) by Dietrich Klagges, National Socialist state minister in Brunswick, when he appointed him a government official.


Election ballot

In the first round on March 13 no candidate obtained an absolute majority of the votes cast, though Hindenburg with 49.6% failed only by a narrow margin. He scored higher election results in traditional Social Democratic and Centre strongholds such as the Prussian Rhine Province or Saxony. Hitler's results were a great disappointment to him, nevertheless the NSDAP recorded further gains compared with the 1930 Reichstag election. The expectations of the Communists presenting "the only left candidate" were not fulfilled, nevertheless they continued their fight against the policies of the Social Democrats and nominated Thälmann for the second round on 10 April.

1932 President of Germany, first round
 IndependentPaul von Hindenburg18,651,49749.6
 NSDAPAdolf Hitler11,339,44630.1
 KPDErnst Thälmann4,938,34113.2
 StahlhelmTheodor Duesterberg2,557,7296.8


Political advertising in Berlin, 10 April 1932
Hitler making a speech on 4 April.

As in 1925, the Communist Party nominated Ernst Thälmann. Backed by the Communist International, it was hoped that he would gain support from left-wing Social Democrats disgusted by Hindenburg's character. Indeed, leftist splinter parties such as the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany and the Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund organization declared their support, as did intellectuals like Carl von Ossietzky.


Under the electoral law, a candidate who received an absolute majority of votes (i.e. more than half) in the first round was elected. If no candidate received a majority, then a second round would be held. In the second round, the candidate receiving a plurality of votes would be elected. A party was permitted to nominate an alternative candidate in the second round, but in 1932 this did not occur (unlike 1925).

Hindenburg, Hitler, and Thälmann competed in the second round, after Dusterberg had resigned. DNVP and Stahlhelm abstained from making any recommendations, while the Agricultural League and the industrialist Fritz Thyssen declared themselves in favour of Hitler. Hindenburg was elected president by an outcome of 53%, while Hitler significantly increased his result by more than two million votes compared to the first round, largely benefiting from Duesterberg's withdrawal.

Candidate Party First round Second round
Votes % Votes %
Paul von Hindenburg Independent 18,651,497 49.6 19,359,983 53.0
Adolf Hitler National Socialist German Workers' Party 11,339,446 30.1 13,418,547 36.8
Ernst Thälmann Communist Party 4,938,341 13.2 3,706,759 10.2
Theodor Duesterberg Stahlhelm 2,557,729 6.8
Other candidates 116,304 0.3 5,474 0.0
Invalid/blank votes
Total 37,603,317 100 36,490,761 100
Registered voters/turnout 43,949,681 85.6 44,063,958 82.9
Source: Nohlen & Stöver


Hindenburg, who owed his election to the support of the Social Democrats, took office with little enthusiasm. On May 29 he dismissed his intercessor Chancellor Brüning and appointed Franz von Papen, a declared anti-democrat, his successor. Although Hitler lost the presidential election of 1932, he achieved his goals when he was appointed chancellor on 30 January 1933. On February 27, Hindenburg paved the way to dictatorship, war, and Nazi rule by issuing the Reichstag Fire Decree which nullified civil liberties. Hitler succeeded Hindenburg as head of state upon his death in 1934, whereafter he abolished the office entirely, and replaced it with the new position of Führer und Reichskanzler ("Leader and Reich Chancellor"), cementing his rule.

Larry Eugene Jones argues that conservative split in the era, combined with Brüning's attempts to bypass the Reichstag and his deflationary policies in the economy, ultimately led to the Machtergreifung almost a year later.[14]

The 1932 election was the second of only two direct presidential elections of the Weimar period. When after World War II the modern office of German Federal President was established in 1949, following the restoration of democracy in West Germany, it was decided that the president would be chosen indirectly by means of a Federal Convention consisting of parliamentarians and state delegates. To date, therefore, the 1932 election was the last occasion on which a direct presidential election has occurred in Germany.


  1. ^ Nohlen & Stöver, p. 762
  2. ^ Nicholls, p. 50
  3. ^ Jones, p. 235
  4. ^ Nicholls, p. 67
  5. ^ a b Nicholls, p. 71
  6. ^ Nicholls, p. 68
  7. ^ Nicholls, p. 107
  8. ^ Nicholls, p. 100
  9. ^ Nicholls, p. 108
  10. ^ a b c d Jones, p. 236
  11. ^ a b Jones, p. 237
  12. ^ a b c Jones, p. 238
  13. ^ a b Nicholls, p. 114
  14. ^ Jones, p. 258

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ The Stahlhelm agreed to support Hindenburg under conditions that Hindenburg rejected; nevertheless, Hindenburg considered such support a sign that the Stahlhelm would be persuaded to support him unconditionally.


  • Nohlen, D.; Stöver, P. (2010). Elections in Europe: A Data Handbook. ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7.
  • Jones, Larry Eugene (1997). "Hindenburg and the Conservative Dilemma in the 1932 Presidential Elections". German Studies Review. 20 (2): 235–259. doi:10.2307/1431947.
  • Nicholls, A. J. (1979). Weimar and the Rise of Hitler (2nd ed.). New York, New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc. ISBN 0-312-86066-8.

Further reading[edit]