Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The election of 1912 was a heated event. The chasm in the Republican Party grew deep, turning friends Theodore Roosevelt and President Howard Taft into opposing candidates. Republicans were split between Conservative Taft and Progressive Roosevelt, while democrat Woodrow Wilson emerged as a clear distinction. As the Republican vote was divided between Taft and Roosevelt 23.2% to 27.4% respectively, Wilson clenched the 41.8% of Americans who did not share the Republican ideology, sending him straight to the white house.
            The primary reason Wilson won was the schism in the Republican Party, thus Wilson’s campaign required no extraordinary intensity. Nonetheless Wilson employed several campaign tactics in his effort to clench the presidency. There was an extent of grassroots campaigning for Wilson, particularly in the anti-Roosevelt effort that spread across America. The anti-Roosevelt effort is exemplified in this independently created political cartoon attacking Roosevelt.* Wilson made broad promises, many of which he could not keep, in order to appeal to a wide variety of voters. For example he promised the triumph of reason and harmony in world affairs, and looking past the World War that transpired during his presidency, one could argue he succeeded in that. Wilson expressed gratitude to his supporters. For example, shown in the picture below, he stopped at a train to talk with supporters on the campaign trail, displaying his appreciation to a group of individually insignificant voters.*
Roosevelt’s enthusiasm and character carried over into his campaign giving him a distinct edge over the dull personality and beside the point views of Taft. Roosevelt’s campaign had no devastating aspects that lost Roosevelt the election. Roosevelt exemplified his big-stick diplomacy by portraying himself as a tough, Rough Rider, going as far as  to continue a campaign speech after he was shot. And, he stayed true to his principles promising progressive reform, such as his New Nationalism outline. There was no campaign element that lef to his defeat besides the element of a third party opponent. Taft did not put as much effort into the election as Roosevelt. Taft’s lack of enthusiasm can be seen through the speeches he gave, or rather the lack there of. Taft gave few speeches, and campaigned little, which exemplified his submissive nature and largely contributed to his defeat.
The 1912 election was one of few campaign elements. Wilson’s campaign was conventional, comparable to the campaigns of many great Americans such as JFK, Jimmy Carter, and Thomas Berman.  There was no specific campaign technique that won him the election, same as there was no specific campaign element that lost Roosevelt the elections. Ultimately, Roosevelt’s enthusiastic campaigning, could not steal enough votes away from Taft, despite Taft’s self inflicting lack of enthusiasm.  The two republicans ended up with percentages too small to defeat Wilson, giving Wilson the victory. 

*'Anti-Third Term Principle' Cartoon
El Paso Herald. “Woodrow Wilson is the Choice of the Democrats.” July 2, 1912. Accessed October 10, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012.

Presidential Election off 1912: A Resource Guide. Accessed October 10, 2012.

The San Francisco Call. “Wilson Elected.” November 6, 1912.

Woodrow Wilson, Politician. Accessed October 25, 1995.


  1. Great Essay Tom! I love it. HIlarious, and lots of good points.

  2. Bennett Capozzi GreenOctober 11, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    You address that Wilson's victory was aided by the schism in the Republican party, but do you think that this schism helped him because it split the Republican vote, or because the excessive amount of mudslinging between Roosevelt and Taft made people unlikely to vote for either candidate? Like in the election of 1936, one candidate avoided mudslinging on the most part, while two other parties (Long and Landon) or (Taft and Roosevelt) insulted their opponents. How did Wilson's relative purity compared to his opponents help his image and chances at the presidency?

  3. I think it is interesting how two bad campaigns led to a victory for a third candidate, Wilson. If Taft had not run do you think Roosevelt or Wilson would have won?

  4. Great question, Bennett. The schism in the Republican party did not lead to much mudslinging. As I mentioned, Taft's campaign was dry and lacked energy, so he did not attack Roosevelt too much. Their similar ideologies forced voters to choose a side, and while over 50% of voters shared Republican views, the 50% was divided 23/27, giving Wilson a wide lead.