The Election of 1932 ushered in a sweeping change in the partisan identity of the U.S. Congress. That year, Democrats won majorities in both houses of Congress and also won the White House by huge margins. The Great Depression, which began in 1929 under the watch of a Republican Congress and president, motivated voters to go Democratic.
Great Depression Politics
In the fall of 1929, a major stock market crash precipitated a rapid decline in the nation's economic health. By mid-November an estimated $30 billion of stock value disappeared. This crisis spread elsewhere in the economy, and by March 1930, more than 3 million people were unemployed. At the time, President Hoover believed the worst of the crisis had passed, but matters only worsened. Food riots broke out in major U.S. cities the following year. The economic crisis became a top priority for U.S. politics, which was not favorable to the ruling Republican Party, and hurt them in 1932.
President Hoover and the Republican Party became increasingly unpopular, and voters showed their disapproval in the 1930 midterm elections. Numerous political gaffes on Hoover's part, like his statement that the Depression had not reduced Americans' incomes, sunk Republican prospects in 1930. By the end of election night, Republicans lost 49 House seats and eight Senate seats. This brought the GOP down to a two-person margin in the House and a single person margin in the Senate. This razor-thin margin poised them to easily lose control of both houses in the 1932 election.
As the de-facto leader of the Republicans in 1932, Hoover's own popularity was directly connected to his party's fate in Congress. By 1932, however, Hoover's name was synonymous with the woes of the Great Depression. Terms like "Hoover Flags" denoted a poor man's turned-down and empty pockets. Likewise, the term "Hooverville" represented the dirty shacks in which the poor lived. The Republican Convention of 1932 offered little to celebrate. Despite Hoover's renomination, no images of the president were hung. Congressional candidates were sure that Hoover was going to lose, and wanted to distance themselves from the unpopular president as best they could.
Franklin Roosevelt was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1932, and his enormous popularity in contrast to Hoover helped Democratic Congressional prospects. FDR did little in the campaign, believing rightly that Hoover's unpopularity sealed the election's fate. On election day, FDR won the presidency by large margins, and voters extended their approval of FDR to his party in Congress. Democrats gained a historic 90 seats in the House and nine in the Senate, which gave them majorities in both chambers.
- PBS: Timeline of the Great Depression
- Smithsonian Magazine: Top 10 Historic Midterm Elections
- University of Virginia: Miller Center: American President: Herbert Hoover
- University of Virginia: Miller Center: American President: Franklin Roosevelt
- University of California Santa Barbara: The American Presidency Project: Seats in Congress Gained Or Lost by the President's Party in Presidential Election Years
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images