A Regional Party Limited to the South: The Democrats in the 1920s, Part 3

This is the last part of three posts analyzing the Democratic Party’s struggles during the 1920s, when it lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins. This will focus upon the 1928 presidential election, when the Democratic Party began to change into what it is today.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

The 1928 Presidential Election

The 1928 presidential election marked the beginning of a great shift in American politics. It was when the Democratic Party started changing from a minority and fundamentally conservative organization into the party that would nominate Senator Barack Obama for president.

All this was quite far off in 1928, however. All Democrats knew was that they had just lost two landslide elections. In 1920 and 1924, the Democratic Party had won the votes of white Southerners – and nobody else. Their last candidate had won barely more than one-fourth of the vote.

In 1928 the Democratic Party tried a different strategy. It nominated Governor Al Smith of New York, the candidate of its white ethnic constituency. In the 1920 and 1924 these voters had sat out the first election, and then voted for a third-party candidate. Mr. Smith was a Tammany Hall-bred politician and a life-long New Yorker who identified as an Irish-American.

There was just one problem: Mr. Smith was not a Christian. Rather, he was a Roman Catholic who many feared would take orders from the Pope himself.

White ethnics had abandoned the Democratic Party in the two previous presidential elections. This time it was the turn of white Southerners, who voted Republican in unprecedented numbers:

Link to Image of Vote in Former Confederacy

White Southerners may have been willing to vote for a yellow dog for president, but many drew the line at voting for a Catholic (especially one who wanted to condemn the Klu Klux Klan and supported anti-lynching legislation).

It was Republican candidate Herbert Hoover who benefited from this. Riding a strong economy and a wave of personal popularity, Mr. Hoover defeated Mr. Smith by 17.2% – a landslide on par with President Ronald Reagan’s pummeling of Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, or Mr. Hoover’s own defeat four years later.

The Transformation of the Democratic Party

The 1928 presidential election was the first time white Southerners had abandoned the Democratic Party since the Civil War, and it signaled the beginning of a sea change in American politics.

Amidst all the Republican celebration of a third massive Republican landslide, there was one disquieting sign: Democrats won more than 50% of the vote in Massachusetts, for the first time in history. Irish-American support also gained Mr. Smith more than 50% in Rhode Island (for the first time since 1852). In New York Democrats lost by less than three percent.

Thus, while white Southerners voted more Republican than ever before in the history of the Republican Party, white ethnics in the Northeast and Midwest supported their fellow Catholic in unprecedented numbers. In 1928, both Mississippi and Massachusetts voted Democratic, as the party lost by a landslide.

In the ensuing decades, the Democratic Party’s power base would shift in a slow but sure tide towards Massachusetts and away from Mississippi. 1928 was the first time Democrats relinquished much of the White Southerner vote, but it would not be the last. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped the trend for a generation, but after him it would resume. Democrats would become the party of Massachusetts, not the party of Mississippi.

This trend started in 1928. A comparison of the 1924 and 1928 presidential elections is revealing. In 1924, Democrats still held a lock on the South, while Republicans held a lock everywhere else:

Link to Image of United States, 1924 Presidential Election

In 1928 this began changing. Democratic strength began to move away from the South, and towards the Northeast and Midwest:

Link to Image of United States, 1928 Presidential Election

This change continues to this very day.

Conclusions

In 1928, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Democrats were consigned to permanent minority status. They had just lost three presidential landslide elections in a row. They had not controlled a House of Congress for more than a decade.

Indeed, aside from 1912 (when two Republicans split the vote), the Democratic Party had won exactly one presidential election since 1892. They had won more than 50% of the vote just one time since the Civil War; Republicans had done so nine times during the same period.

In 1928, the Democratic Party really did seem trapped as a regional-based party which had great trouble competing outside the South. Again and again, Democratic candidates were pummeled outside the former Confederacy. When they had attempted to reach out to white ethnics in 1928, White Southerners had refused to go along.

It was a terrible Catch-22, a problem Democrats had failed to surmount for almost two generations. In the end, it would take a Great Depression for them to do so.

--Inoljt

 

 

A Regional Party Limited to the South: The Democrats in the 1920s, Part 3

This is the last part of three posts analyzing the Democratic Party’s struggles during the 1920s, when it lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins. This will focus upon the 1928 presidential election, when the Democratic Party began to change into what it is today.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

The 1928 Presidential Election

The 1928 presidential election marked the beginning of a great shift in American politics. It was when the Democratic Party started changing from a minority and fundamentally conservative organization into the party that would nominate Senator Barack Obama for president.

All this was quite far off in 1928, however. All Democrats knew was that they had just lost two landslide elections. In 1920 and 1924, the Democratic Party had won the votes of white Southerners – and nobody else. Their last candidate had won barely more than one-fourth of the vote.

In 1928 the Democratic Party tried a different strategy. It nominated Governor Al Smith of New York, the candidate of its white ethnic constituency. In the 1920 and 1924 these voters had sat out the first election, and then voted for a third-party candidate. Mr. Smith was a Tammany Hall-bred politician and a life-long New Yorker who identified as an Irish-American.

There was just one problem: Mr. Smith was not a Christian. Rather, he was a Roman Catholic who many feared would take orders from the Pope himself.

White ethnics had abandoned the Democratic Party in the two previous presidential elections. This time it was the turn of white Southerners, who voted Republican in unprecedented numbers:

Link to Image of Vote in Former Confederacy

White Southerners may have been willing to vote for a yellow dog for president, but many drew the line at voting for a Catholic (especially one who wanted to condemn the Klu Klux Klan and supported anti-lynching legislation).

It was Republican candidate Herbert Hoover who benefited from this. Riding a strong economy and a wave of personal popularity, Mr. Hoover defeated Mr. Smith by 17.2% – a landslide on par with President Ronald Reagan’s pummeling of Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, or Mr. Hoover’s own defeat four years later.

The Transformation of the Democratic Party

The 1928 presidential election was the first time white Southerners had abandoned the Democratic Party since the Civil War, and it signaled the beginning of a sea change in American politics.

Amidst all the Republican celebration of a third massive Republican landslide, there was one disquieting sign: Democrats won more than 50% of the vote in Massachusetts, for the first time in history. Irish-American support also gained Mr. Smith more than 50% in Rhode Island (for the first time since 1852). In New York Democrats lost by less than three percent.

Thus, while white Southerners voted more Republican than ever before in the history of the Republican Party, white ethnics in the Northeast and Midwest supported their fellow Catholic in unprecedented numbers. In 1928, both Mississippi and Massachusetts voted Democratic, as the party lost by a landslide.

In the ensuing decades, the Democratic Party’s power base would shift in a slow but sure tide towards Massachusetts and away from Mississippi. 1928 was the first time Democrats relinquished much of the White Southerner vote, but it would not be the last. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped the trend for a generation, but after him it would resume. Democrats would become the party of Massachusetts, not the party of Mississippi.

This trend started in 1928. A comparison of the 1924 and 1928 presidential elections is revealing. In 1924, Democrats still held a lock on the South, while Republicans held a lock everywhere else:

Link to Image of United States, 1924 Presidential Election

In 1928 this began changing. Democratic strength began to move away from the South, and towards the Northeast and Midwest:

Link to Image of United States, 1928 Presidential Election

This change continues to this very day.

Conclusions

In 1928, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Democrats were consigned to permanent minority status. They had just lost three presidential landslide elections in a row. They had not controlled a House of Congress for more than a decade.

Indeed, aside from 1912 (when two Republicans split the vote), the Democratic Party had won exactly one presidential election since 1892. They had won more than 50% of the vote just one time since the Civil War; Republicans had done so nine times during the same period.

In 1928, the Democratic Party really did seem trapped as a regional-based party which had great trouble competing outside the South. Again and again, Democratic candidates were pummeled outside the former Confederacy. When they had attempted to reach out to white ethnics in 1928, White Southerners had refused to go along.

It was a terrible Catch-22, a problem Democrats had failed to surmount for almost two generations. In the end, it would take a Great Depression for them to do so.

--Inoljt

A Regional Party Limited to the South: The Democrats in the 1920s, Part 3

This is the last part of three posts analyzing the Democratic Party’s struggles during the 1920s, when it lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins. This will focus upon the 1928 presidential election, when the Democratic Party began to change into what it is today.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

The 1928 Presidential Election

The 1928 presidential election marked the beginning of a great shift in American politics. It was when the Democratic Party started changing from a minority and fundamentally conservative organization into the party that would nominate Senator Barack Obama for president.

All this was quite far off in 1928, however. All Democrats knew was that they had just lost two landslide elections. In 1920 and 1924, the Democratic Party had won the votes of white Southerners – and nobody else. Their last candidate had won barely more than one-fourth of the vote.

In 1928 the Democratic Party tried a different strategy. It nominated Governor Al Smith of New York, the candidate of its white ethnic constituency. In the 1920 and 1924 these voters had sat out the first election, and then voted for a third-party candidate. Mr. Smith was a Tammany Hall-bred politician and a life-long New Yorker who identified as an Irish-American.

There was just one problem: Mr. Smith was not a Christian. Rather, he was a Roman Catholic who many feared would take orders from the Pope himself.

White ethnics had abandoned the Democratic Party in the two previous presidential elections. This time it was the turn of white Southerners, who voted Republican in unprecedented numbers:

Link to Image of Vote in Former Confederacy

White Southerners may have been willing to vote for a yellow dog for president, but many drew the line at voting for a Catholic (especially one who wanted to condemn the Klu Klux Klan and supported anti-lynching legislation).

It was Republican candidate Herbert Hoover who benefited from this. Riding a strong economy and a wave of personal popularity, Mr. Hoover defeated Mr. Smith by 17.2% – a landslide on par with President Ronald Reagan’s pummeling of Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, or Mr. Hoover’s own defeat four years later.

The Transformation of the Democratic Party

The 1928 presidential election was the first time white Southerners had abandoned the Democratic Party since the Civil War, and it signaled the beginning of a sea change in American politics.

Amidst all the Republican celebration of a third massive Republican landslide, there was one disquieting sign: Democrats won more than 50% of the vote in Massachusetts, for the first time in history. Irish-American support also gained Mr. Smith more than 50% in Rhode Island (for the first time since 1852). In New York Democrats lost by less than three percent.

Thus, while white Southerners voted more Republican than ever before in the history of the Republican Party, white ethnics in the Northeast and Midwest supported their fellow Catholic in unprecedented numbers. In 1928, both Mississippi and Massachusetts voted Democratic, as the party lost by a landslide.

In the ensuing decades, the Democratic Party’s power base would shift in a slow but sure tide towards Massachusetts and away from Mississippi. 1928 was the first time Democrats relinquished much of the White Southerner vote, but it would not be the last. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped the trend for a generation, but after him it would resume. Democrats would become the party of Massachusetts, not the party of Mississippi.

This trend started in 1928. A comparison of the 1924 and 1928 presidential elections is revealing. In 1924, Democrats still held a lock on the South, while Republicans held a lock everywhere else:

Link to Image of United States, 1924 Presidential Election

In 1928 this began changing. Democratic strength began to move away from the South, and towards the Northeast and Midwest:

Link to Image of United States, 1928 Presidential Election

This change continues to this very day.

Conclusions

In 1928, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Democrats were consigned to permanent minority status. They had just lost three presidential landslide elections in a row. They had not controlled a House of Congress for more than a decade.

Indeed, aside from 1912 (when two Republicans split the vote), the Democratic Party had won exactly one presidential election since 1892. They had won more than 50% of the vote just one time since the Civil War; Republicans had done so nine times during the same period.

In 1928, the Democratic Party really did seem trapped as a regional-based party which had great trouble competing outside the South. Again and again, Democratic candidates were pummeled outside the former Confederacy. When they had attempted to reach out to white ethnics in 1928, White Southerners had refused to go along.

It was a terrible Catch-22, a problem Democrats had failed to surmount for almost two generations. In the end, it would take a Great Depression for them to do so.

--Inoljt

A Regional Party Limited to the South: The Democrats in the 1920s, Part 2

This is the second part of three posts analyzing the Democratic Party’s struggles during the 1920s, when it lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins. This will focus upon the 1920 and 1924 presidential election, when white ethnic immigrants abandoned the Democratic Party.

The last part can be found here.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

The 1920 Presidential Election

The Democratic Party of the early twentieth century was composed of two bases (both of which no longer vote Democratic). These were Southern whites and immigrant, often Catholic, whites from places such as Ireland and Italy. Southern whites voted Democratic due to the memory of the Civil War and could be reliably whipped up with race-baiting appeals. Immigrant ethnic whites, on the other hand, saw the Democratic Party as a vehicle of defense against the dominant, Republican-voting WASP majority in the Northeast and Midwest.

The two groups had precious little in common, save distrust of the dominant Republican Party. One of the constituencies would often only lukewarmly support the national Democratic candidate (this was usually the immigrant  camp, because without Southern whites the Democratic Party was nothing).

In 1920, ethnic whites walked out of the Democratic Party. The city machines at Tammany Hall and others did not just fail to fully back Democratic candidate James M. Cox; they outright refused to support him.

This was entirely the fault of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. The previous year, Mr. Wilson had delicately stated that:

…there is an organized propaganda against the League of Nations and against the treaty proceeding from exactly the same sources that the organized propaganda proceeded from which threatened this country here and there with disloyalty, and I want to say — I cannot say too often — any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.

If I can catch any man with a hyphen in this great contest I will know that I have got an enemy of the Republic.

The political stupidity of this quote cannot be overstated. The “man with a hyphen” was not just a politically influential constituency; in states like New York, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin he was the Democratic Party.

This, along with Mr. Wilson making the 1920 election a referendum on his extremely unpopular League of Nations, led to the result in the map above.

Democratic candidate James M. Cox lost everywhere outside the Solid South. He got barely one-fourth of the vote in New York City, less than one-fourth in Chicago, less than one-fifth in Detroit, and so on throughout all the great non-Southern cities. In the “hyphen-heavy” states of Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, Mr. Cox failed to break the 20% mark. Even in the Solid South, Republicans broke 30% of the vote – for the first time since 1908, when disenfranchisement of blacks was complete.

All in all, Democratic candidate James M. Cox lost by 26.2% – the greatest defeat in the popular vote, ever.

The 1924 Presidential Election

In 1924, the Democratic Party nominated a man with the distinction of being more conservative than the Republican.

Little known John W. Davis was not just a social conservative who endorsed segregation – that was true for all Southern Democrats at the time – but also an economic conservative. Mr. Davis believed in small government, states rights, and would go on to oppose President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Mr. Davis was nominated as a compromise candidate after one of the longest and nastiest Democratic conventions in history – a bitter fight with immigrant whites from big cities against Southern and Western rural whites. By the time the convention had ended, it was clear that Democrats didn’t stand a chance of winning the 1924 presidential election. After Mr. Davis’s nomination, ethnic whites walked out once again.

In 1924, Democrats lost big again. They lost by more than Walter Mondale against Ronald Reagan. They lost by more than Herbert Hoover against FDR. All in all, the Democratic candidate lost by the second greatest popular margin in American history, right after 1920.

Mr. Davis won between one-fourth and one-third of the votes. Southern whites stayed loyal; indeed, he did a quite bit better than Mr. Cox in 1920 in the Solid South.

White ethnics did not. In 1920 white immigrants had sat out the election. This time they voted for Governor Senator Robert La Follette, who was the only liberal candidate in the race. Mr. La Follette did better than the Democratic candidate in a dozen states.

Everybody else voted for Republican candidate Calvin Coolidge. Mr. Davis lost almost every single non-Southern city, including all five boroughs of New York (the last time a Democratic presidential candidate would lose New York). In Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco the Democratic candidate got less than 10% of the vote.

All in all, Mr. Davis failed to break 30% in more than half the states:

Link to Map of Mr. Davis's Vote

In the aftermath of this election – a second disastrous election in a row for Democrats – it was clear that a change in strategy was needed. For two elections in a row, Democrats had won Southern whites and nobody else.

In 1928, therefore, the Democratic Party nominated the candidate of the white ethnics to run for president. This time it was the turn of the Southern whites to walk out.

--Inoljt

 

A Regional Party Limited to the South: The Democrats in the 1920s, Part 1

This is the first part of three posts analyzing the Democratic Party’s struggles during the 1920s, when it lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins.

The second part can be found here.

A Regional Party Limited to the South

The biggest presidential landslides are two elections you’ve probably never heard of: the 1920 presidential election, and the 1924 presidential election.

In the 1920 presidential election, Democratic candidate James M. Cox lost by 26.2% to Republican candidate Warren G. Harding. Four years later, Democratic candidate John Davis would get barely more than one-fourth the vote in another landslide defeat. These two elections constitute the biggest victories in the popular vote in the history of American presidential elections.

In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s victory, Democratic strategists liked to boast that the Republican Party was becoming a regional party restricted to the South. This meme has become less popular in light of Republican gains during the 2010 mid-terms, in which Republicans are expected to do quite well outside the South.

Yet during the 1920s, the Democratic Party really was a regional, Southern-based party that had great difficulty competing outside the South. It was a party that was completely unrecognizable today: a proudly racist, white supremacist organization in which its two main constituencies refused to back the same candidate not for one, not for two, but for three consecutive elections.

The story begins with World War I and President Woodrow Wilson.

--Inoljt

 

 

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