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Election of 1936: Referendum on the New Deal

Candidates:
Democratic Party: Franklin Roosevelt (New York) and John Nance Garner (Texas)
Republican Party: Alfred Landon (Kansas) and Frank Knox (Illinois)
Union Party: William Lemke (North Dakota) and Thomas O'Brien (Massachusetts)

Election Results:
Roosevelt and Garner: 27.75 million popular votes, 523 electoral votes.
Landon and Knox: 16.68 million popular votes, 8 electoral votes.
Lemke and O'Brien: 892,000 popular votes, 0 electoral votes.

Summary:
The Democratic Party was in a strong position heading into the 1936 presidential election. The 1934 midterm elections had given them a wider margin in Congress to achieve the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt, despite some difficulties getting his full slate of programs past the Supreme Court, was fairly popular for his initiative. The 1936 nominating convention for the Democrats was fairly uneventful as delegates and party leaders renominated Roosevelt with much fanfare. However, the party made an important decision to scrap its 2/3 majority rule, in effect for a century, in order to ease the nomination process for strong candidates. Meanwhile, the Republican Party, reeling from the problematic ending to the 1920s presidential dynasty, struggled to find the appropriate candidate to face Roosevelt. The party settled on moderate-progressive (at least for the party) Kansas governor Alfred "Alf" Landon, who was counterbalanced by conservative Chicago publisher Frank Knox. A third party, the Union Party, was organized by anti-Roosevelt leaders Dr. Frances Townsend, Gerald L.K. Smith, and Father Charles Coughlin but deteriorated when none of the leaders could get together on who would run the party.

The Democratic Party wanted to accentuate the positive in the campaign, using the song "Happy Days are Here Again" as the clarion call for the New Deal coalition. The Democratic strategy was a bit presumptuous but it energized blacks, labor groups, and others who had supported the Democrats in 1932 in order to sweep Roosevelt to victory. The Republicans were at odds between their two wings, with Landon's polite Midwestern style contrasting with Frank Knox's big money swagger. The Republican strategy aimed at painting the picture of Roosevelt the authoritarian (which would be used in subsequent campaigns) and the New Deal as an invasive, socialist legislative program. Their campaign slogan, "Save America from Socialism," got right to the point but was not enough to slow down the Democratic machine.

The Roosevelt campaign swept its way through the United States, winning 60% of the popular vote, an unprecedented and relatively unsurprising outcome. Roosevelt's Brain Trust utilized extensive polling and media strategy in order to determine what the American public thought of the New Deal. Landon, whose campaign was more grassroots, would have benefited from such a campaign tool because perhaps he would have been more aggressive in his campaigning. Landon only won Maine and Vermont while winning the vote of wealthy Republicans across the country. The Democrats, as would become custom throughout the rest of the century, won over labor groups, Catholics, Jewish Americans, and African Americans without much doubt, while taking most of the major cities in American handily.

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