The United States presidential election of 1932 took place in the midst of the Great Depression. The economy was thus the dominant issue, while the cultural issues salient in previous elections were ignored. The incumbent President, Herbert Hoover, had presided over the beginning of the Great Depression and was blamed by many in America (Figure 2). Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) won the election in a landslide.
The Democratic nomination went to the well-known governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1930, FDR had been reelected governor of the most populous state in the nation by a wide margin. FDR enjoyed a national reputation: People still remembered his fifth cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, and FDR had been the losing vice presidential nominee in 1920. In 1932, Roosevelt successfully united all wings of the Democratic party, partly by avoiding divisive cultural issues such as religion and the KKK. He also solidified the allegiance of the party's southern wing by choosing a leading southern Democrat, House Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas, as his running mate. Roosevelt also built his own national coalition with personal allies such as newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, Irish leader Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., and California leader William Gibbs McAdoo.
The Democrat's campaign was based on an all-out attack on Hoover's economic failures, with the incumbent hard pressed to defend himself. FDR blamed the Great Depression on Hoover and his protectionist policies. FDR lashed out, "I accuse the present Administration of being the greatest spending Administration in peacetime in all our history." Garner similarly accused Hoover of "leading the country down the path of socialism." Roosevelt did not yet have a clear idea of the New Deal policies, so he promised no specific programs and tried to appeal to all groups of voters, including Republicans. Prohibition was a favorite Democratic target, as few Republicans tried to defend it. There was a mounting demand to end prohibition and bring back alcohol and its associated tax revenues. The prohibition issue solidified the wet vote for Roosevelt. The optimism of Roosevelt's campaign was captured in his iconic campaign song "Happy Days Are Here Again," which became one of the most popular songs in American political history and the unofficial anthem of the Democratic Party.
In contrast, Hoover was unable to achieve unity within his party and was vehemently opposed by some prominment Republicans. In particular, Hoover lacked the support of a number of Republican senators, who had fought Hoover throughout his administration, and whose national reputation made their opposition damaging. Some prominent Republicans even went so far as to openly support the Democratic candidate. Even worse for Hoover was the fact that many blamed him for the Great Depression
As the encumbent, Hoover's presidency was inevitably associated with the terrible economic conditions. And with unemployment at 23.6%, the severe economic problems were the center of national attention. Hoover tried to attack Roosevelt as a capitalist president who would only worsen the Depression by decreasing taxes, reducing government intervention in the economy, promoting global free trade, and cutting spending at all of tiers of government. But his attempts to campaign in public were often disasterous, and Hoover was sometimes even the target of projectiles (especially rotten fruit and vegetables), as he rode through city streets. His criticisms of Roosevelt's campaign promises did nothing more than further depress his popularity. One pundit noted that "a vaguely talented dog-catcher could have been elected president against the Republicans." Hoover received a letter from an Illinois voter advising, "Vote for Roosevelt and make it unanimous."
A LANDSLIDE WIN
Predictably, Roosevelt won the election by a landslide. With 57% of the popular vote, the Democratic ticket carried all but six states. Roosevelt led the poll in 2,722 counties, the greatest number ever carried by a candidate for the presidency up until that time. Of these, 282 had never before been Democratic. The small number of counties (374) that remained loyal to the Republican candidate, and the diminished Republican vote throughout the nation, are clear indications of the party's shrunken support base. Roosevelt swept every region of the nation except New England.
Historians and political scientists consider the 1932-36 elections a realigning election–the alignment between interest groups and the political parties shifted, leaving new coalitions behind each party. This realignment created a new majority coalition for the Democrats, made up of organized labor, blacks, ethnic Americans (such as Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans and Jews), farmers, and southern whites. This realignment transformed American politics, creating what is called the "New Deal Party System" or the Fifth Party System.