Home Opinion Featured Blog: Is 2016 a repeat of 1948?

Featured Blog: Is 2016 a repeat of 1948?

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in a neck-and-neck fight, according to RealClearPolitics’ current polling average of the race. However, the majority of media houses are predicting a landslide victory for the former Secretary of State. This is definitely not strange considering that her main opponent is extremely controversial and is known more for his antics than his policies. At the same time, a Breitbart News article (yeah, I read everything) intrigued me. The article claimed that the 2016 election is much like the 1948 election, with Trump as Harry Truman and Clinton like Thomas Dewey.

Now, we all know that, policy-wise, Truman and Trump are completely different. Campaigning-wise, though, they are quite similar. Truman ran a populist campaign, and a lot of his attacks were focused on his opponent, Dewey, much like Trump’s attacks today.  Let’s take a quick history lesson on the 1948 election:

Harry Truman became president in 1945 following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Truman’s first term was quite tumultuous, as most of the decisions he made received mixed to negative reviews. From Hiroshima to the strike wave of 1946, Truman’s presidency always found a way to be in the news. At the same time, due to continuation of Roosevelt’s New Deal, Truman had the continued support of low-income individuals. His decision to recognize the embattled state of Israel also made him popular in the Jewish community. Despite this, he was expected to lose in 1948.

Truman’s opponent was Thomas E. Dewey, the dashing governor of New York. Dewey had won the gubernatorial election in 1946 by a record margin in his state. His major opponents in the Republican primaries were Robert Taft, who wanted to do away with New Deal, and the liberal Harold Stassen. Dewey was a moderate who supported the New Deal and some of Roosevelt’s other policies. Even though he was disliked at a personal level by both Republicans and Democrats alike, Truman’s reputation was worse. This is evident by the popular saying of the ‘40s, “to err is Truman.”

Dewey decided to play safe and not dole out controversy. He kept his interactions with media minimal and spoke in a politically-correct fashion. Truman, on the other hand, went berserk. He challenged every policy Dewey had in mind, every decision Dewey made and every word Dewey spoke. Truman made sure his name stayed in the headlines and his message reached the common folk.  As a result, he slowly started gaining in the polls and in the end defeated Dewey by over 2 million votes.

This is starkly similar to what we are seeing in this election cycle. Clinton, disliked on a personal level by many people, has not had a single press conference in nine months. She is trying her best to prevent stoking controversy. Trump, on the other hand, is just like Truman: using everything possible to stay in headlines.

What’s more eerie is the possibility of third-party candidates doing well. In 1948, Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond carried the Deep Southern states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina. This year, we have the Libertarian Party’s candidate former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson doing much better than his predecessors in the polls. Thurmond’s candidacy also inspired former Alabama Gov. George Wallace to run in 1968, giving the best third-party performance in modern history. Perhaps a Johnson candidacy will inspire future libertarians as well.

I understand this is just a coincidence, but it is captivating nonetheless. For every history aficionado, the prospect of history repeating itself is enticing. With an interesting election ahead, all we can do is wait and watch. One thing is clear: The similarities are uncanny, and we all are hoping for a president like Eisenhower to follow after a President Clinton or Trump.

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One Comment

  1. […] On the internet you can find a smattering of stories finding similarities between the elections of 1948 and 2016. […]


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