Snapshot of US political parties since 1900
How the balance of power has shifted between the Republicans and Democrats.
From 1894 to 1896, Republicans expand their footprint. The economic panic of 1893 ushers in rising disaffection with the administration of Grover Cleveland (D). The young leader of the populist wing of the Democratic Party, William Jennings Bryan, moves it to the left on economic issues. The realignment makes the Republicans the clear majority party through the early 1900s.Skip to next paragraph
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• Teddy Roosevelt (R), who becomes the youngest president at 42 upon the assassination of William McKinley, serves from 1901 to 1909. An ardent reformer, he fights monopolistic corporations, becomes the first president to call for universal healthcare, and promotes conservation.
In 1912, Republicans are splintered between the conservative followers of William Howard Taft and Roosevelt’s progressive wing. Woodrow Wilson (D) wins the election and is narrowly voted to a second term in 1916. In 1919, Wilson is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in creating the League of Nations. He establishes the Federal Reserve Board and passes labor and child-welfare laws. But his tenure is an aberration in a GOP era. Prosperity during World War I turns into postwar depression. Strikes and race riots erupt. This leads to a high point for the Republicans in the 1920s. They rule the White House for the next 12 years – with large successive victories by Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover.
• The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 marks the beginning of a major realignment that favors the Democrats. The party rules both houses of Congress through Roosevelt’s entire tenure (1933-45). For six of those years, the Democrats control two-thirds of the congressional seats. Roosevelt takes aggressive steps to pull the country out of the Great Depression, with New Deal programs such as the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the establishment of a Social Security system.
A recession in 1937, plus Roosevelt’s attempt to purge the House of conservative Democrats, results in the Republicans picking up seats in 1938. Those gains, coupled with Democratic infighting, undercut Roosevelt’s New Deal ambitions. By 1944, Roosevelt, who is already being depicted as a war hero, wins a fourth term and his supporters regain control of both houses of Congress.
In 1946, postwar dissatisfaction with Harry Truman (D), plus widespread labor strikes, lead to the Republicans retaking Congress. Democrats recapture control two years later, but their reign is short-lived: Concern that Truman is too soft on communism and unable to end the Korean War leads to a landslide victory for Dwight Eisenhower (R) in 1952 and Republican control of Congress. Ike’s tenure, though, largely represents a break in a Democratic era.