Voting Deliberatively: FDR and the 1936 Presidential Election Campaign.

Author:Arrigo, Anthony F.
Position:Book review

Voting Deliberatively: FDR and the 1936 Presidential Election Campaign. By Mary E. Stuckey. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015. 154 pp.

When considering Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidential campaigns, the first one likely to come to mind is his trouncing of Herbert Hoover in 1932, an election that took place in the midst of the Great Depression and one in which Roosevelt defeated a highly unpopular Hoover by more than 17 percentage points in the popular vote and won the Electoral College by a margin of 413 votes. Roosevelt's famed First Hundred Days and myriad legislative accomplishments in his first term set up his even more lopsided defeat of Kansas governor Alf Landon in the election of 1936. This time, Roosevelt received over 60 percent of the popular vote while winning all but two states.

FDR's triumph in 1936 is often seen as simply the second of four decisive campaigns, as well as an affirmation that he was one of the most popular presidents of the modern era. But Mary E. Stuckey's Voting Deliberatively suggests that the 1936 election was more than a mere stepping stone in Roosevelt's storied political career. Stuckey argues that the election of 1936 was, in fact, fraught with uncertainty, as criticism of Roosevelt from both the Left and the Right was unceasing, and continued economic uncertainty, high unemployment, and political upheaval left the election as anything but a foregone conclusion. More importantly, though, Stuckey argues that it was also a watershed moment in American politics, one that ushered in several new elements of political campaigning that are still with us today. To Stuckey, the election of 1936 is an under-examined, yet important moment in American history.

Dissecting Roosevelt's campaign into its various features, Voting Deliberatively identifies four pioneering and intentional strategies that Roosevelt and his aides employed: new ways of assessing public opinion; the mobilization of voters through what we now refer to as a "ground game"; identifying and segmenting blocks of voters by group affiliation (women, blue collar, Protestant, etc.); and employing persuasive appeals that signaled a new kind of presidential rhetoric, one that was both authoritative and deeply personal.

According to Stuckey, Roosevelt's 1936 campaign was the first to use both anecdotal and nominally scientific means of understanding the concerns and attitudes of the American public. Stuckey describes...

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