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Election of 1936

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Election of 1936

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to the presidency in a landslide 1932 victory over conservative Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover. Did his first term live up to what voters expected? It was undoubtedly full of radical changes to the U.S. government, which generated plenty of strong feelings on both sides. The election of 1936 teaches us not just what Roosevelt accomplished but how people felt about it. How did the national conversation on the role of government in the lives of Americans shape the 1936 elections? Let's find out!

Presidential election 1936, A black and white photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt Voting in 1936 StudySmarter

Eleanor Roosevelt Voting in 1936/Wikimedia Commons

FDR's First Term and the Use of Radio

During the 1920s, radio stations spread rapidly across the United States, leading to a Golden Age of Radio in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president to use the popular medium of radio and bring his voice directly into American living rooms. Americans were able to hear from FDR and his supporters and critics, such as the early political pundit Father Charles E. Coughlin. Radio put politics directly into Americans' lives like never before, transmitting information instantly and with a level of personal touch that newspapers were unable to match.

presidential election of 1936, a black and white photograph of a family listening to the radio in the 1930s StudySmarter

Listening to the Radio 1930s/Wikimedia Commons

Fireside Chats

One of FDR's most significant innovations was his fireside chats. Roosevelt discussed difficulties facing the nation reassuringly, calling his audience "my friends" and using a common language. To the Americans looking for hope in the middle of the Great Depression, Roosevelt was a dramatic shift from his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, who had been viewed as aloof and unconcerned with their plight. FDR came right into their homes to call them "friends" and tell them that he would get them through the crisis besetting the nation. This endeared him to many Americans who were struggling in a very personal way.

Father Charles E. Coughlin

In 1926, a Catholic Priest named Father Charles E. Coughlin began broadcasting his sermons on the radio. By the early 1930s, he became an outspoken political commentator who initially supported FDR and the New Deal wholeheartedly. Coughlin favored nationalizing industries, minimum wages, maximum work weeks, and other pro-worker reforms in opposition to banks, capitalism, and wall street. Then, Coughlin turned on Roosevelt, who he felt was too aligned with Wall Street, and began supporting Fascism and FDR's populist rival, Huey Long. Eventually, Coughlin's insistence that the U.S. stay out of WWII and his strong support for the fascist Axis power led to his program's cancellation, which had long made the Catholic Church uneasy.

Coughlin also promoted various anti-semitic ideas tying the Jewish people to both banking and Communism, which he also detested.

presidential election 1936, A flier for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1936 Presidential campaign StudySmarter

Roosevelt Campaign Flier/Wikimedia Commons

Presidential Election of 1936: Candidates

The election of 1936 was primarily about the New Deal, and its candidates defined themselves in relation to it. The election of 1932 had shown a strong appetite for more progressive policies on the part of the American voters. No presidential candidate in the election represented the sort of conservatism that Herbert Hoover had embodied but represented how progressive America would become. More radical third parties such as the Union Party, Communist Party, and Socialist parties all put up candidates who received some measure of support.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Roosevelt was extremely popular with the party's base and only faced one true challenger for the Democratic nomination in Huey Long. Long was the left-leaning senator who believed that FDR had not been radical enough in his New Deal programs. When Long was assassinated in September 1935, Roosevelt had no other competitive challenger in his own party.

The death of Long came under scrutiny in later years for theories that the alleged assassin had not killed him but in the accidental crossfire by his own bodyguards. This was never proven.

Alf Landon

The Republican Party nominated a moderate liberal candidate in Kansas governor Alfred "Alf" Landon for the presidency and Frank Knox, who published the Chicago Daily News. While Landon agreed with the New Deal, he argued that the government had overstepped its boundaries, becoming a threat to freedom. While Landon critiqued specific issues like Social Security and business regulation, most of the Republican attacks were aimed at depicting FDR himself as a tyrant, set on increasing government power.

While Roosevelt expressed himself over the radio, Landon published a book titled America at the Crossroads to explain his ideas.

Union Party

The Union Party was a significant attempt to launch a third party. With the death of Huey Long, his followers joined the Union Party, which had been started by popular radio hosts of the time. Charles Coughlin was the most popular of these but could not run himself: he wasn't born in the United States. The party nominated William Lemke, who was not as charismatic or popular a figure as the radio hosts who put the party together. The Union Party was strained by leadership with radically differing views on specific issues and an organization tied together more on the personalities of three radio hosts than on a coherent platform.

Presidential election 1936, A black and white photograph of Alf Landon StudySmarter

Alf Landon/Wikimedia Commons

A Summary of Events During the Election of 1936

During the election of 1936, Americans saw little of Landon, who did not travel to campaign and relied on supporters to spread his message. Republican attacks on FDR as being anti-business only reinforced the idea many Americans held that he was on their side. FDR had entered their living rooms regularly for years, while Landon was largely absent from campaigning, creating a strong contrast in the two politicians' relatability. In a famous speech delivered at Madison Square Garden in New York City during the campaign, FDR contrasted his administration as working hard for the average American compared to the laissez-faire attitude of the previous Republican administrations.

The election of 1936 was also notable for a significant shift in the accuracy and the importance of political polling. A magazine named the Literary Digest had predicted the correct winner of the last several elections but incorrectly predicted Landon would win in 1936. Later analysis showed that the magazine had not made a proper sample of voters, as its readership leaned Republican, and anti-Roosevelt Republicans were much more concerned with the election and therefore more likely to respond to the poll. The scientific survey conducted by George Gallup picked the correct winner. The Gallup Poll has been an essential tool in understanding elections ever since.

Results of the 1936 Presidential Election

Candidate
Party
Electoral Votes
Popular Votes
Franklin Roosevelt
Democrat
523
27,476,673
Alf Landon
Republican
8
16,679,583
William Lemke
Union
0
882,479

Significance of Presidential Election of 1936

The election gave Roosevelt the mandate to continue his New Deal policies. It was one of the most outstanding landslides in U.S. history and the second massive victory for FDR. He would be elected for an unprecedented four terms and die still holding the office.

Election of 1936 - Key takeaways

  • The election was a referendum on FDR's New Deal.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the incumbent Democratic President and was challenged by Republican Alf Landon.
  • The medium of radio played a prominent role in connecting with voters.
  • Landon did little campaigning.
  • Roosevelt won reelection.

Frequently Asked Questions about Election of 1936

In the election of 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won relection over Republican challenger, Alf Landon. 

The election was significant because ti was a referendum on how Americans felt about the New Deal. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was primarily opposed by Republican candidate Alf Landon but Union part William Lemke was also a significant candidate in the election. 

The presidential election of 1936 was held on Tuesday, November 3, 1936

Franlin Delano Roosevelt was reelected president in 1936. 

Final Election of 1936 Quiz

Question

What was the election of 1936 about?

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Answer

The New Deal

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Question

What medium influenced the 1936 election?

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Answer

Radio

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Question

Who was James Coughlin?


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Answer

A political commentator

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Who was the Republican candidate in 1936?

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Answer

William Lemke

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How did William Lemke communicate with voters?


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Answer

Wrote a book

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Question

What third party was created in the 1936 election?

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Answer

Union Party

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What tool for understanding political races advanced in the 1936 election?


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Answer

Polling

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Question

Who conducted the Fireside Chats?

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Answer

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Who was a significant challenger to Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination?


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Answer

Huey Long

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Question

Who won the 1936 presidential election?

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Answer

Franklin Delano Roosevelt 

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