Museum Notes: The 1932 presidential election

October 25, 2008 

SARAH LIM

The other day, my husband said to me, "You should write about the presidential election of 1932."

Given today's political and economic climate, of course, this has been a fun and interesting research project (after all, I am a political junkie).

There are many parallels to our current election and the one of 1932.

Instead of depressing you with all these bad economic news, the turbulent stock market, and the irritating negative campaign ads, I will explore 1932 election trivia, examine what issues were important to the Merced County residents during the Great Depression, and how they voted.

Just like today, age was an issue in the 1932 campaign.

Unlike today, the controversy was on neither presidential candidate, but the running mate of President Herbert Hoover, Charles Curtis, who was 73 during the campaign.

The age issue was cause for concern for the Merced Sun-Star columnist, Corwin Radcliffe.

In his daily column entitled "Rad's Rambling," he wrote, "If President Hoover wins re-election and something should happen to cause him to vacate the White House in the third year of his second term, Curtis, at the age of 76, would become president.

Every man who has ever been inaugurated president has been under 70."

Today, we get election night returns from network television, talk show radio, or the Internet.

Many even gather in local bars for post-election celebrations.

However, in 1932, the nation was in deep economic depression and Prohibition was still the law of the land in California.

So, citizens could only get their first hand election results by going to downtown election news centers organized by the Merced Sun-Star, local merchants, and several civic organizations.

Returns hot off the United Press wires were relayed through the Merced Sun-Star to 14 local businesses and organizations including Hartman's Department Store, Merced Theatre, the Elks Club, and the Methodist Church that all remained open until after midnight.

The 1932 presidential election again proved that the incumbent gets blamed for difficult economic times.

Out of 13,624 registered voters in Merced County, 7,024 were Republicans, 6,151 Democrats, 106 Socialists, and 36 Prohibitionists.

Franklin D. Roosevelt won 7,140 while Herbert Hoover received 2,915.

A good number of Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Roosevelt while others stayed home.

Again Roosevelt's Merced County victory was evident in 61 out of 62 precincts with the exception of Hilmar.

Other than Roosevelt's New Deal economic policies, Merced County residents also embraced Roosevelt's stand on the repeal of the 18th Amendment that had established Prohibition in the United States.

In California, Prohibition was known as the Wright Act.

It was repealed in Merced County in a vote of 5,461 to 2,438 and the voters also gave the state the right to license and regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors.

There are many important issues to us this election year.

Sarah Lim is director of Merced County Courthouse Museum. She may be contacted at (209) 723-2401 or info@mercedmuseum.org

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