How the Election of 1932 Drastically Changed U.S. Political Parties

Have you ever wondered how the liberal, politically-correct Democratic Party at one point supported slavery and the KKK? Those who tout this story are historically correct, though the story is misleading. In short, there was a switch in party identification, so the Democrats of today identify with the Republicans of the 1800’s and the Republicans of today identify with the Southern Democrats (coming from the original Southern Democratic Republicans) of the 1800's.

A brief history of the parties for reference first though. The Republican Party grew out of the Whig Party to handle the growing crisis of slavery in roughly 1854. The Democratic Party is the oldest party in the U.S. and originated as the Democratic-Republican Party, created by Thomas Jefferson in opposition to the Federalists, who supported a strong central government.

During the time of the Civil War (1861–1865), the two major political parties, in name, resembled their contemporary counterparts. The Republicans were the party of the North (and Lincoln), while the Democrats were the party of the South (and slavery).

Election Results of 1932

Flash forward to 1932. Prohibition is, somehow, still rolling and the Great Depression is in full swing. The presidential election is between incumbent Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hoover was a Republican, Roosevelt was a Democrat, and Roosevelt won in a landslide. The election of Roosevelt to the presidency in such a massive win was astonishing, as the Republicans had dominated the presidency since the Civil War.

It is in this election that it is clear the political parties of the 1800’s presented the opposite of their contemporary parties. Over the course of almost 80 years, the Republican Party became more conservative in their policies, while the Democratic Party began expanding their policies and became liberal in them. FDR came to represent the embodiment of a liberal Democratic Party, as he worked to excessively expand the role of the federal government (New Deal). The Republican Party became one of states’ rights and looked locally for answers to solutions.

Explaining the 1932 Election with Context

The Election of 1932 is significant by its distinction in marking a realignment of how constituents vote, called a realigning election. With party realignment, 4 things can happen: strongly divisive issues upset the political order, voters shift behavior in favor of one party, a major change in policy brought through the dominant party, and lasting party coalitions or their goals. FDR, in trying to pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression, pulled together a massive coalition of labor unions, the White South, Catholics, Jews, and Westerners. For the most part, this coalition still represents the Democratic voting bloc.

There is a common misperception that the Democratic Party of today (extra liberal and politically-correct) supported slavery. In name only is this true. The misperception is caused by a knowledge gap to account for realigning elections. In 1932, the culmination of 80 years worth political grievances mixed with new threats and events manifested itself in a realignment election, whereby Roosevelt won a vast, vast majority and created a power, lasting coalition. This election marked a switch in how voters identified with parties as they changed how they voted for policy. The Republicans once were the part of big government and (semi-)liberal policy and the Democrats were for small government and states’ rights, including the states’ right to utilize slavery. After the election, Democrats were steadfastly identified as the big government party, while Republicans became more and more conservative.

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