A Regional Party Limited to the South: The Democrats in the 1920s, Part 1

This is the first part of three posts analyzing the Democratic Party’s struggles during the 1920s, when it lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins.

The second part can be found here.

A Regional Party Limited to the South

The biggest presidential landslides are two elections you’ve probably never heard of: the 1920 presidential election, and the 1924 presidential election.

In the 1920 presidential election, Democratic candidate James M. Cox lost by 26.2% to Republican candidate Warren G. Harding. Four years later, Democratic candidate John Davis would get barely more than one-fourth the vote in another landslide defeat. These two elections constitute the biggest victories in the popular vote in the history of American presidential elections.

In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s victory, Democratic strategists liked to boast that the Republican Party was becoming a regional party restricted to the South. This meme has become less popular in light of Republican gains during the 2010 mid-terms, in which Republicans are expected to do quite well outside the South.

Yet during the 1920s, the Democratic Party really was a regional, Southern-based party that had great difficulty competing outside the South. It was a party that was completely unrecognizable today: a proudly racist, white supremacist organization in which its two main constituencies refused to back the same candidate not for one, not for two, but for three consecutive elections.

The story begins with World War I and President Woodrow Wilson.

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