Sunday, October 7, 2012

Campaign Research Assignment: FDR 1932. Alex Siber Green

Campaign Research Assignment: FDR 1932  
Alex Siber

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1932 Campaign 
Smiles, Speeches, and Strength 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States for three rather successful terms, the first of which beginning after his victory against former President Hoover in the 1932 election. Following the start of the Great Depression that many American’s blamed on Hoover, Roosevelt was considered the favorite as he offered a much needed change that the people were desperate for. 

About 2000 years earlier, the Roman philosopher and political theorist Marcus Cicero outlined numerous tips and rules to follow to win a race for public office, many of which still true and applicable today and can be seen in Roosevelt’s campaign. A primary measure that must be taken according to Cicero was securing the support of one’s allies, and winning over the general public. In his campaign, Roosevelt was able to garner the support of his fellow Democrats by avoiding a deadlock, convincing rival and presidential hopeful John Garner to cede his delegates, which enabled Roosevelt to win his party’s nomination. Furthermore, the Democratic party fully supported their candidate, organizing numerous fundraisers, parades, rallies, and conventions. Hoover, in comparison, did not garner as much encouragement or promotion: his party did not even have his pictures hung at the Republican convention. 

As for the general public, Roosevelt made an honorable, exhausting effort to travel to as many places as he could, covering a total of 13,000 miles solely by train. He also gave many speeches to enlighten the public about his “New Deal,” which aimed to assist a struggling America through federal support programs. In these speeches, he called for federal responsibility and social change, often including one-liners or anecdotes laced with optimism that sat well with his crowds, such as those in Chicago. In addition, the term “New Deal” instantly rose in popularity and was used as a campaign slogan, inspiring hope in many Americans. Hoover, however, campaigned much later than Roosevelt, and the speeches he went on to deliver were described as dreary and bland. Hoover was also booed by crowds when calling Roosevelt’s policies “foreign” or “socialist.” Though framed in a critique of Roosevelt, Walter Lippmann’s statement calling the presidential hopeful “a pleasant man” once more added a sense of optimism and appeal that contrasted well with Hoover’s unpopularity. 

Roosevelt’s success as Governor of New York from 1928 to 1932 also served as a political basis for comparison with Hoover’s plagued term in the Oval Office, and provided the former governor with support from one of the most influential states in the country, as he was able to implement several programs that assisted the poor by raising funding for the state by 30 million dollars. 

While the time period certainly affects the way campaigns are run due to changes in technology and politics, several key elements define successful American presidential campaigns. Foremost, a candidate must focus on the major issues confronting the nation at that time, and must convince the people that he or she is capable of handling those issues in a way that benefits the country. In a time of prosperity, a president must convince thes people that the aforementioned prosperity will continue. If it is a time of struggle, such as it was in 1932, the winning candidate must convince the people that he or she can bring prosperity back. Second, a successful candidate must appeal to a broad base of people, as voters tend to choose a person who is relatable, kind, and promising of change. Finally, a successful candidate must be willing to play the game of politics, which includes the media stories, the tiresome days of travel, speeches, and debates, the pressure to deliver for an entire nation, and the need to convince thousands of individuals, one by one, that he or she can make good on their promises. 

In Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign, celebrity endorsement was a major technique used, as prominent Democratic officials openly supported as well as influential Republicans such as Robert LaFollete Jr. of Wisconsin and George Norris of Nebraska. Especially considering the total lack of support behind Hoover, these endorsements were extremely significant in convincing voters across the spectrum to vote for the “New Deal” and “Happy Days are Here Again” campaign of Roosevelt. In addition, Roosevelt’s campaign sought to create a “pleasant man, family man” image that, when coupled with his incessant and bright smile and optimism, made Roosevelt extraordinarily appealing and inspiring for many Americans. 

Ultimately, Roosevelt’s seemingly honest tactics, centralized around a passionate desire to speak to as many people as he could and in as many places as possible, made him triumphant: He won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes, and took 42 states. 


  1. Like Eisenhower's election in 1952, Roosevelt was also able to gain the support of the general public but because of his speeches rather than the televised political commercials Eisenhower used. While Eisenhower's speeches were sometimes disappointing which is what caused him to focus on television, Roosevelt was not able to use television for his commercials because of the lack of this technology at the time period. Do you think that if Roosevelt could have used television to broadcast his message he would have been even more successful, or do you think his speeches were really what defined his campaign and was a valuable method to communicate with voters?

  2. Great post, Alex! I think a central component of this campaign was, as you mentioned, the direction with which the voters wanted the country to go. After the Great Depression, people were tired of Hoover's inaction during economic turmoil; people then turned to Roosevelt, whose New Deal programs promised to help people in need and take the country in a new direction. The role of government plays a role in almost every election; for example, in today's election, the question of whether the country should nationalize its health care system rather than leave it to the private sector has become a major decision point for voters. When thins went poorly for the previous candidate, I think its a wise political move to promise change from the previous presidency and use their campaign to promise a new path for the future of the country.