The Presidential Election of 1932: Summary & Results

Instructor: Jill Story
The presidential election of 1932 represented a clash between the conservatives and liberals. Learn how the major political differences between these ideologies affected the Great Depression and led to federal expansion in the nation's economy.

Competing Ideologies

The election of 1932 highlighted key differences between Republicans and Democrats over the federal government's role in the economy. By fall 1932, the United States had been in the grips of the Great Depression for three years, and conditions did not seem to be improving. Hoping for change, Americans went to the polls to vote for president in November, and a majority chose to elect Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt over Republican Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt's victory ushered in an era of federal expansion, as his administration sought to provide relief for the needy, economic recovery, and enduring reforms.

The Roaring Twenties

For most of the 1920s, the U.S. economy appeared to be thriving. After World War I, Americans turned inward, following a policy of isolationism and concentrating on domestic affairs. Wages for many American workers increased, and with rising incomes, people purchased consumer goods such as radios and automobiles.

In many ways, however, the apparent economic prosperity was misleading. A sharp rise in immigration to America at the turn of the 20th century resulted in a larger workforce. More workers, combined with increased efficiency due to technological advancements, led to the overproduction and under-consumption of goods. When companies began to experience a surplus in warehouses, they cut wages or laid off employees to compensate for declining profits. In addition, the gap between the rich and poor widened in the 1920s, so as the decade progressed, there were fewer people who could afford to buy the products being sold.

The Great Depression

During the 1920s, businesses weren't the only ones overproducing - farmers were too. During World War I, there existed a steady demand for agricultural products abroad, and American farmers met this demand with increased production. After the war, however, demand abroad declined. Many farmers had expanded their farms and invested in new farming equipment to keep up with demand, often taking out loans from banks in the process. With a decrease in demand and a surplus of crops on the market, farmers encountered declining prices, making it even more difficult to pay off debt owed to lenders.

To make matters worse, on Oct. 29, 1929, a day known as Black Tuesday, the stock market crashed. People who had borrowed money to purchase stock now found their shares worth less than they owed for them. The crash of the stock market sent the economy into a downward spiral. As banks called in their loans, people rushed to withdraw their savings to pay off debts. Since many banks had speculated in the stock market as well, when people appeared in droves to withdraw their savings, banks began to fail. Businesses laid off more workers and unemployment soared. The nation sunk deeper into an economic recession.

Herbert Hoover's Conservative Policies

Herbert Hoover

Republican Herbert Hoover did not believe that it was the role of the federal government to intervene in the economy. He believed that recessions signaled that something in the economy was unsound, and that economic downturns were self-correcting. Instead of offering federal relief, Hoover encouraged Americans to stay optimistic and asked business leaders not to lay off any more workers.

Hoover believed in maintaining a balanced budget, but with declining federal revenue due to lower profits and high unemployment, the federal government had less money to spend. His administration created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which provided federal aid to major industries that Hoover perceived as vital to the economy, such as the railroads and the banks. However, his efforts were not enough to pull the economy out of the deepening recession.

Unemployed men waiting in line at a soup kitchen

By 1932, thousands of banks had failed and unemployment was at an all-time high. No longer able to afford rent, struggling Americans moved into shantytowns known as 'Hoovervilles.' People grew tired of Hoover's laissez-faire, or hands-off, economic policies and began searching for a presidential candidate who would take action to fix the economy.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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