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Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

Seattle Newspapers' Support for FDR during the 1932 Election

by Nicholas Taylor

Like the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Star enthusiastically backed Franklin Roosevelt. This front page of the March 4, 1933 shows the newspaper's faith in the new President on the eve of his inauguration.

In the three years leading up to the presidential election of 1932, there was little to assist Herbert Hoover’s re-election to office. The country was in turmoil and desperate for a way out of economic and social trouble. The Great Depression had wrecked the economy, and the damage was compounded by the ill-conceived attempts of Hoover’s administration to help control the downward slide. By the time Americans went to the polls in their thirty-seventh presidential election, industrial production was at a low ebb, unemployment was widespread, and the farmers of the country were facing ruin.

By 1932, millions of people across the country were condemning Hoover and the Republican Party. This trend of disapproval, which led to a landslide win for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was evident in Seattle. A survey of The Seattle Daily Times, Seattle Post Intelligencer, and University of Washington Daily demonstrate the negative public opinion of the time. In Seattle, discontent with the Republican Party was expressed in Seattle Times and The Seattle PI. Curiously. the University of Washington Daily showed a more conservative view, reporting that the majority of the students favored Hoover for re-election. Looking into the views of such widely circulated public propaganda shows how desperate the nation was for a change of leadership.

Before delving into the election and the Seattle newspapers, it is crucial to first understand the climate of the country before the election, which was the driving force in the overwhelming Democratic Party victory. By spring of 1932, living conditions in the United States reached what was seen to be an “intolerable impasse.”[1] Unemployment had risen to between a quarter and a third of the workforce. Not only did the people of the country feel the strain of the Depression in almost all areas of life but they also felt a strain from the inadequacy of government efforts to save the country. Despite the overwhelming evidence that it was unrealistic and almost certainly doomed to fail, President Hoover continued to, in the words of historian Thomas Cochran, “adhere to his theory that the primary obligations for relief rested upon the family, the neighbor, the landlord, and the employer—in that order.”[2] By the time of the election, Hoover’s efforts to lend money to banks, industries, and state local governments had “failed to stem the tide of disaster.”[3] This is where the Republican Party stood before the 1932 election, an election that was characterized by the public's hope for a leader who could pull the hard-working American citizens out of poverty.

The climate in America at the time the Republican National Convention met on June 14, 1932, made the nomination decision a difficult one. Despite his seemingly disastrous first term, Hoover felt obligated to run again to vindicate himself and his policies. Republicans also felt his nomination was necessary, not because of their belief in his policies or the President in general, but because denying his re-nomination would be admitting failure. Therefore, by the time the convention had concluded on June 16, Hoover and his Vice-President Charles Curtis had been re-nominated. At the convention, Hoover and Curtis received “no spontaneous demonstrations, colorful eulogies, or triumphant parades”; the delegates did not even bother posting pictures of the president around the convention hall.[4] The unenthusiastic tone of the convention carried through to the campaign that won Hoover only six states in November.

The Democrats, on the other hand, were in an excellent position to take the presidency. Because this was common knowledge at the Democratic National Convention, which met on June 27, 1932, it made the race for the nomination a great prize and “the battle to win it in some ways more exciting than the campaign that followed.”[5] Franklin D. Roosevelt was the frontrunner and finally, after much deliberation, was nominated to run for the next president of the United States alongside running mate John Garner. Roosevelt projected “confidence, energy, compassion, even joyfulness” in contrast with the “dour president,” and after being stricken with polio, he seemed even “more in tune with the struggling of the people.”[6] Roosevelt went with his party’s platform, based on reducing federal expenditures, a balanced budget, and the repeal of prohibition. In his address to the people after his nomination, the Governor from New York roused the audience to cheers with his promise: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”[7] This “new deal” that Roosevelt spoke of came to be the foundation of his campaign. He campaign hard despite media expectations that the battle was, for the most part, already won. Garner himself referenced this when he advised the president to “sit down—do nothing—and win the election.”[8] Hoover made this even easier when he used military force against peaceful protesting war veterans in Washington--the Bonus Marchers--after Congress rejected a bill which would have allowed veterans to borrow up to fifty percent of their service benefits. The violent expulsion of the Bonus Marchers, peaceful veterans who had served their country, gave the public one more reason to prefer the charismatic Roosevelt.

The landslide victory in November of 1932 for the Democratic Party,--which won Roosevelt 42 states and 57 percent of the popular vote-- was mirrored in the state of Washington, where votes for the Democratic candidates tallied well over 57 percent. The ballot box numbers demonstrate consistency with the nation’s support for Roosevelt, and local newspapers reflected this political bias. The use of headlines, rhetoric and diction in the articles was a powerful tool of support for Roosevelt and opens a window into the mind of Seattleites during the election.

FDR in Seattle, 1932. Click image to enlarge. (Courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry)

The Seattle Daily Times had long been Seattle's most conservative newspaper, but in 1932 it joined the other dailies in supporting the Democrat candidate. The Times first started reporting on the election with the June 1932 nomination of President Hoover by referring to the “party’s Chieftains” as not being ecstatic over the victory and that they embarked on the “1932 campaign with extra caution.”[9] The rest of the coverage was based around the Republican stance on prohibition and the easy nomination victory Hoover received. While the paper was indeed reporting the news from the Republican convention, it showed its lack of excitement in its word choice, leaving the news lame and uninteresting.

The dull coverage of Hoover was contrasted by the exuberance with which newspaper greeted Roosevelt’s nomination. The front-page headline of The Times on July 3, 1932 read, “Roosevelt Means Prosperity! Like Moses, He Leads Us Out Of Wilderness: Good Times Are Here Again!”[10] As if the newspaper’s stance was not obvious enough, the opening statement in the article about Roosevelt’s speech made their preference quite clear:

[T]he speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt accepting the Democratic nomination for the Presidency rings out over the country with the full clear tone of an unmistakable sincerity and a lofty purpose. It is a speech from the heart of a sound American, coined into convincing words and phrases in the mind of one whose capacity for public service has been amply demonstrated… It is in all respects a great speech.[11]

Not only was Roosevelt applauded for his speech, but the article emphasized the importance of printing candidate’s nomination speech, even when Hoover’s speech of less than a month earlier was not printed. It was obvious that the editors of The Times were ready for change, even without a firm understanding of what that would bring.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had traditionally been a more moderate newspaper. Owned by the Hearst newspaper chain, it usually endorsed Democratic Party presidential candidates, following the political convictions of owner, William Randolph Hearst. The PI coverage of Hoover’s nomination during the Republican convention was very similar to that of The Times: showcasing the same un-enthusiastic rhetoric and headlines in regards to President Hoover. Much of the coverage reports on the convention’s goals in reference to the prohibition and warns that the party’s effort to straddle the issue will be “not a very successful attempt.”[12]

As in The Times, the PI showed a contrasting eagerness in the articles about Roosevelt. The newspaper published opinion piece by William Randolph Hearst proclaiming that Roosevelt will “make a great President,” and that both men—Roosevelt and Garner—“are eminently qualified for these positions by long years of skillful public work and faithful public service,” and that it will be “an enormous benefit to this nation of ours to have two such men in commanding positions.”[13] By running this article, the PI allowed Hearst to speak for them and explicitly declare their support for Roosevelt. In comparing the attitudes of the Times and the PI, two papers that usually differed when it came to partisan politics, we can see an overwhelming consensus of support for Roosevelt in the Seattle.

Evidently, college students, both in Seattle and nationally, did not share in this consensus. The UW Daily conveys the impression that students favored Hoover overwhelmingly. Because the Daily was not published during the summer months when school was not in session, it is difficult to gain their views of the National Convention nominations. However, in the days before the November1932 election, a straw poll was taken on campuses across the country to determine how college students felt about the election. On November 8, 1932, The Daily came out with findings that paralleled the national poll, reporting that Herbert Hoover had won the majority of votes in the straw poll.[14] At UW the Hoover margin was larger than the national poll. Sixty percent of those participating in the unscientific poll at UW said they supported Hoover.[15] It is not clear that this was an accurate reading of student opinions since students had to make an effort to participate in the straw poll. But the results are still important, demonstrating that despite the huge victory for the Democrats, there was still a decent amount of support in the city.

The Times continued its support for Roosevelt on the eve of the election, though at this point the newspaper restrained its previous exuberance for the Democratic Party. On November 9, after Roosevelt's victory, the editor took space on the front page to congratulate the president-elect but also apologized if The Times does not “at once join in the tumult of rejoicing won in the name of the Democratic Party,” because of its “long held faith in the fixed principles of the Republican Party to be carried away by a shift of breeze in the public opinion.”[16] The statement shows how far the Times had strayed from its usual political position. The Seattle Times had crossed party lines in 1932.

The PI did not have to make such a distinction, and on the eve of the election referred to the “humble” nature of Roosevelt’s speech. The PI also highlighted a comment made by Hoover that underscored his violent actions against the protesting war veterans in Washington: Hoover stated that he was glad “we still have a government in Washington that knows how to deal with a mob.”[17] The writer for the PI used strong language to emphasize the distaste Americans should have for the departing President after this last act, and referred to Hoover’s comment as “cold and calculated venom.” The author went on to say that there is nothing any President has said which can compare with this, which made millions of Americans reel back as if “under a blow in the face.”[18] This was not the first time a PI reporter had highlighted Hoover’s inadequacies to promote Rooseveltian sympathy; however, this was the most blatant.

By looking at how these three different Seattle-area newspapers covered the 1932 presidential election, one can begin to define not only the papers’ political hopes for new leadership during depths of the Depression, but also the mood of the people. The University of Washington Daily’s undergraduate base simply represented a demographic that was a small minority in Seattle supporting President Hoover. However, it is in the widely circulated major newspapers that we find a better representation of the majority opinion, and the true atmosphere of Seattle. Though they often were opposed in issues of partisan politics, the consensus of support for Roosevelt among the PI and the Seattle Times shows how desperately the Seattle public and the nation were looking for a change in leadership during the Depression.


Copyright (c) 2009, Nicholas Taylor
HSTAA 105 Winter 2009

[1] Thomas C. Cochran. The Great Depression and World War II: 1929-1945. (Scott, Foresman and Company: Glenview, 1968) pp. 14.

[2] Ibid. pp.17.

[3] Paul F. Boller, Jr. Presidential Campaigns: from George Washington to George W. Bush. (Oxford University Press: New York, 2004). pp.231.

[4] Paul F. Boller, Jr. Presidential Campaigns: from George Washington to George W. Bush. (Oxford University Press: New York, 2004). pp. 232.

[5] Ibid. pp. 232.

[6] David F. Burg. The Great Depression. (Facts on File, Inc.: New York, 2005) pp.78.

[7] Boller. Presidential Campaigns. pp. 233.

[8] Ibid. pp. 234.

[9] “Rival for Presidency Ousted.” Seattle Daily Times. June 16, 1932.

[10] “Roosevelt Means Prosperity! Like Moses, He Leads Us Out Of Wilderness: Good Times Are Here Again!” Seattle Daily Times. July 3,1932.

[11] Seattle Daily Times. July 3,1932.

[12] “Hoover and Curtis Renominated” The Seattle Post Intelligencer. June 17, 1932.

[13] “Roosevelt Smashes Traditions and Pledges a New Deal for America: Garner Nominated Running Mate” The Seattle Post Intelligencer. July 3, 1932.

[14] “Poll Of University Will be Evaluated in Elections Today.” UW Daily. November 8, 1932.

[15] “Hoover wins on U.S. Campaign.” UW Daily. October 28,1932.

[16] “The President Elect.” The Seattle Daily Times. November 9,1932.

[17] “Hoover’s Latest Insult to Veterans.” The Seattle Post Intelligencer. November 8,1932.

[18] Ibid.