Hello and welcome back to another edition of the presidential election series as I’ll be going over the election of 1936, Franklin Roosevelt has been in office for four years and now is hoping the work his done since will lead to a massive victory come election day, will this happen?… Let’s get into it.
FDR’s Response to The Great Depression
Upon defeating incumbent President Herbert Hoover in the 1932 election, Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasted no time when came to dealing with the problems that many Americans were facing as a result of the Great Depression.
For one thing, FDR kept his promise to abolish prohibition by signing into law The Cullen-Harrison Act which called for the sale and distribution of alcohol so long as those beverages had an alcoholic content of 3.2%; After doing so, Roosevelt famously said “I think this would be a good time for a beer” and many in the U.S. certainly agreed.
After dealing with the prohibition issue, FDR proceeded to do more than any other president in just 100 days into office as Roosevelt passed a series of social and work programs that were designed to counterattack the depression and which can best describe as the Three R’s:
The New Deal is often summed up by the “Three Rs”:
- relief (for the unemployed)
- recovery (of the economy through federal spending and job creation), and
- reform (of capitalism, using regulatory legislation and the creation of new social welfare programs)
These programs have come to be known as ‘The New Deal’. which saw the federal government get more involved in the lives and institutions of many Americans than ever before which was needed as the Great Depression was still going on throughout FDR’s term.
While the majority of average Americans supported the New Deal and FDR, many others weren’t in favour of it as the rich ended up paying more taxes and their control over major monopolies were being reduced, not only that but some argue that the New Deal just further prolonged the Great Depression which is still a point of argument to this day.
Even the Supreme Court also wasn’t a fan of the New Deal as 1935-36 saw them strike down several programs and legislation in various court cases which led to Roosevelt passing a ‘Second New Deal’ which focused more on the creation of social security, an eight hour work day, unemployment benefits and a federal minimum wage among other things.
Due to his overwhelming popularity amongst the poor and middle class as well as those within the Democratic Party, FDR and his vice president John Nance Garnder were easily renominated.
Alf Landon for President
Due to the popularity of the New Deal and the success the Democrats had in the midterm elections, the Republican Party was beginning to fall to the wayside, however, the backlash many elites and the Supreme Court had with the New Deal gave the GOP some hope that they could take down FDR and several candidates were looking for the nomination:
- Herbert Hoover: Former president and former Secretary of Commerce
- Alfred ‘Alf’ Landon: The Governor of Kansas
- William Borah: Senator from Idaho
The Republican Party establishment threw their support to Alf Landon who became famous for his handling of the Great Kansas Bond Scandal and also agreed with many progressive policies while also known for being conservative when came to economic issues such as lowering taxes and balancing the budget.
Landon’s running mate was Frank Knox, a newspaper publisher from Illinois who withdrew his name as a nominee for president to support the Governor of Kansas.
So, those are the two major candidates for the Democrats and Republicans, but before we get into the campaigns and some more interesting things about this election we have to take about the fascinating story regarding a third party that’s also running in 1936.
Huey Long & The Birth of The Union Party
Once Franklin Roosevelt was sworn into office in 1933 some far-left Democrats believed that the Governor of New York would implement policies that would help the poor and fix the country and while that was indeed the case, many of them felt that Roosevelt wasn’t going far enough when came to the New Deal and decided to look for someone dynamic and populist enough to challenge the incumbent.
One name that most pencilled in as a possible contender to FDR was former Lousiana Governor turn Senator, Huey P. Long who was an unabashed far-left populist who went on to pass numerous changes in his home state which immensely helped the poor and middle class.
Nicknamed ‘The Kingfish’, Huey Long like so many others were in support of FDR but he found Roosevelt’s reactions to the Great Depression subpar at best and even opposed many of FDR’s legislations like Social Security, the National Recovery Act and the Glass-Steagull Act as he felt those policies were actually in favour of corporate industries and would disfranchise the poor and minorities.
In the lead-up to the 1936 election, Long and a group of supporters were planning to create a movement to challenge Roosevelt, however, things took a turn for the worse when on September 9th 1935 Huey Long was killed in an assassination attempt by Carl Weiss who was the son-in-law of a political rival to the Kingfish.
As the story goes, Long’s plan, when it came to running in the 1936 election, was to challenge FDR for the nomination only to lose, but use the national attention he would’ve garnered to create a third party that would take on Roosevelt from the left which would break-up the New Deal Coalition that FDR created ensuring the Republican’s would win the election of 1936 and then Long would run for president in 1940 and reclaim the White House for the Democrats…but Long’s death ended any hopes of this.
Despite his death, the remaining supporters of Kingfish decided to create a new political party called the ‘Union Party’ which would run on Long’s far-left platform called “Share Our Wealth” which called for major government spending, taxing the rich and wealth redistribution to the poor.
Some names were considered to represent the Union Party in 1936 like Burton Wheeler who was Robert La Follette’s running mate in 1924, William Borah who lost the GOP nomination to Alf Landon and Minnesota Governor Floyd B. Olsen although Olsen was unable to run due to having stomach cancer.
In the end, the Union Party nominated William Lemke as a U.S. Representative from North Dakota with his running mate being a lawyer by the name of Thomas O’Brien but Lemke lacked the charisma of Huey Long and so therefore stood very little chance of being seen as a serious threat in this election.
So with that all said, let’s get into the campaigns between Governor Landon and FDR.
FDR is running on the accomplishments of the New Deal in this election with hopes that he’ll be able to get a second term to continue expanding his New Deal programs and with the Great Depression entering its eighth year of existence many Americans still held out hope in Roosevelt’s policies.
Republicans are using endorsements from celebrities like Jesse Owen and former New York Governor, Al Smith to promote Alf Landon and they’re also trying to spread the message that Alf is the man who knows how to cut debt and balance the budget while Landon himself believes that the New Deal has some good stuff in it but argued that these work programs could lead to wasteful spending and problems to many businesses.
Roosevelt for his part responded by sarcastically mentioning in a speech how the Republicans were indeed in support of these ideas of social security, working for the unemployed and saving homes and this leads to GOP changing their attack strategy going forward.
The Republicans then decide to use political cartoons to paint the New Deal as nothing but smoke and mirrors and it also leads to what could probably be seen as the first-ever animated political commercial in U.S. History as a cartoon shows a donkey called “The New Deal Jackass” being given Russian Vodka to drink as a way to say that the New Deal is communist before the donkey goes out of control and destroys everything including a box that the narrator says has the ideas of the Democratic platform in 1932 and how that’s been kicked to the side.
Alf Landon also mentions how the New Deal is subverting the Constitution and when it comes to the idea of social security he said: “This is the largest tax bill in our history, and to call it Social Security would be a fraud on the working man.”
In response to all of this, FDR famously gave a speech in Madison Square Garden on Halloween of 1936 where he said the following:
“For nearly four years now, you’ve had an administration which instead of twirling its thumb has instead rolled up its sleeves. And I assure you we will continue to keep our sleeves rolled up.
We have had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, and war profiteering. They have begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their affairs. We now know that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.
Never before in all of our history, have these forces been so united against one candidate as they have been today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred.”
Despite these attacks by the Republicans on FDR and the New Deal, much it lands on deaf ears as most middle-class Americans suffering from the Depression didn’t have a TV so they couldn’t see these commercials. Worse of all Landon for his part didn’t even go out to campaign in this election, instead relying on others to write speeches that would attack Roosevelt and this led to a columnist famously writing: “Considerably mystery surrounding the disappearance of Alfred M. Landon of Topeka Kansas…The Missing Persons Bureau has sent out an alarm bulletin bearing Mr. Landon’s photograph and other particulars, and any information of his whereabouts is asked to communicate directly with the Republican National Committee.”
The Literary Digest and Election Polling
Another notable thing about this election surrounds election polling as a largely successful weekly magazine called ‘The Literary Digest’ conducted a survey to 10 million of its readers on who they think would win between Franklin Roosevelt and Alf Landon and out of those 10 million over 2 million came back and responded that Landon would win with 370 electoral votes and 57% of the popular vote.
Why this is important? Well in addition to being a very influential magazine, The Literary Digest also predicted the outcome of the last five presidential elections correctly so when the surveys came back to reveal that most believed that Landon would win most took this very seriously.
One person who didn’t take the Literary Digest’s poll seriously was an advertising expert named George Gallup who conducted a scientific poll that revealed that FDR would win after surveying thousands of people using quota sampling.
Many today think that Literary Digest’s polling for this election was problematic because most of their readers who filled out the survey were either Republicans or wealthy people who were more biased for Landon than Roosevelt and secondly the poll wasn’t representative of the entire country especially those in states that were hit hard by the Great Depression.
But how well did FDR and Landon do in the election overall, well for that let’s take a look at the results.
As you can see from the electoral map above, it appears that the Literary Digest was dead wrong with their polling as Franklin D. Roosevelt easily won re-election, remaining the 32nd President in U.S. History… Roosevelt recieved an astounding 523 electoral votes and 60.8% of the popular vote.
Making FDR the first of third presidents to be re-elected with more than 500 electoral votes and the first Democrat to be re-elected with more of the electoral and popular vote than he had in the previous election.
In terms of electoral votes Alf Landon received… 8, you heard that right 8 electoral votes and 36.5% of the popular vote as he only won the states of Vermont and Maine. In terms of the popular vote, Landon suffered the worse defeat for a Republican candidate trying to run for president and when it comes to the electoral vote, Landon (much like William Howard Taft in 1912) got the lowest amount of electoral votes for a major party candidate.
William Lemke and the Union Party came in third with no electoral votes and just 2% of the popular vote, ultimately leading to the party ending not too long after this election.
Speaking of things coming to an end, The Literary Digest would end up folding just 18 months after this election but not without posting a photo that says ‘Is Our Face Red’ in their next edition, however George Gallup’s scientific polling was so successful that it’s become the model many use when it comes to predicting the outcomes of elections today known as ‘The Gallup Poll’.
So that’s the election of 1936, FDR sweeps another victory to become a two-term president but things are going to get complicated in the next four years and this will result in Roosevelt doing the unthinkable…but more on that in the next election.