1936–Forward with Roosevelt–Lindsay Staniszewski
In the election of 1936, incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt ran against Republican candidate, Alf Landon, Governor of Kansas, in what came to be known as one of the nation’s most “lopsided” elections. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic candidate, won all states except for the states of Maine and Vermont. By winning 523 electoral votes, Roosevelt received 98.49% of the electoral vote, the highest percentage since 1820. One of the largest victories in popular votes of the time, FDR’s 1936 re-election was and is, to this day, one of the largest popular vote majorities.
The United States was nearing the eighth year of the Great Depression, and FDR was “working to push the provisions of his New Deal economic policy through Congress and through the courts.” Predictions were made that the 1936 election could be a close call because the United States was still on its long and challenging journey of turning the economy around in times of turmoil and hardship. The hope and forward-thinking of Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, inspired the American people enough to keep their faith in him as President. In the midst of signing and moving forward with the New Deal, FDR seemed to be a promising light of optimism for those seeking work, for those hungering to survive and for those hanging on by one last thread.
Throughout his campaign for re-election, Roosevelt stuck to the phrase, “Forward with Roosevelt.” Its simplistic message seemed to have power, deep meaning and promises for a hopeful future. The New Deal that had started taking effect in FDR’s first term as President, seemed to cover the basic needs and concerns of the American People, and Roosevelt’s campaign for re-election certainly used this legislation and its promised effects at the focal point of the campaign. As many historians seem to state, the New Deal offered the “3 R’s: Relief, Recovery and Reform”—relief for the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy to normal levels and reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. The New Deal created social and governmental agencies, worked to re-establish the people’s trust in currency and created large governmental projects, in turn creating jobs for thousands of people. The New Deal had begun to put into place such entities as the Works Projects Administration (WPA), the National Youth Administration (NYA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and so many more. “It was the first time that Americans thought of their government as a solution to the problems that individuals and society at large were experiencing,” says Jean Edward Smith, a political science professor at Marshall University.
It was said that people either loved or hated Franklin D. Roosevelt. The press, from an early standpoint, did not seem to favor Roosevelt, and instead, gave equal footing to the candidates. Over the course of the campaign, however, Roosevelt did tend to draw more media attention, stories and coverage. The 1936 Election was the first time presidential candidates appeared on television, even though most Americans at the time did not own a television set. Progress had begun during FDR’s first term as President, and so, the people felt a kind of connection to FDR, who had been by their side since the beginning. FDR’s fireside chats on the radio (the first of its kind by any President) kept the American people informed about the decisions being made and the direction in which the federal government intended to go. This use of technology to reach out to the people made an impact, far beyond any kind of impact that FDR’s opponent could ever try to promise in his campaign. It was also the first year that the majority of African American voters voted for the Democratic candidate. In the past, African American voters tended to vote for the party of Lincoln, the Republicans, because it was under the Republicans that they received their very right to vote. In the end, however, the charisma and hopeful outlook of FDR must have won over the American people at a time when faith was falling apart in the country and in the government. There must have been enough positive work done by FDR in his first campaign election to convince the people that they would continue “Forward with Roosevelt.”