While the presidential race may divide us, we can all agree that it’s been an interesting election year. The 2016 presidential race has exposed a deep divide in our nation. Trump supporters and Clinton supporters seem to have little common ground. The race is increasingly nasty, with name-calling and personal attacks overshadowing discussions of the issues.
By any measure, this year is a very contentious election year. But how does it measure up to other years where the U.S. has had divisive elections?
1824 – As the only presidential election decided by the House of Representatives, this race is one of the most contentious in our nation’s history. The four candidates running each had strong bases of support in different sections of the country, but none was able to appeal to the entire nation. As a result, no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes. That left it to the House of Representatives to choose the president from the top-three vote-getters: Senator Andrew Jackson, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, and Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford. The fourth candidate, House Speaker Henry Clay, threw his support behind Adams, which led to the House electing Adams as president. Andrew Jackson, who received more popular and electoral votes, claimed that Adams and Clay entered into a “corrupt bargain” to steal the election from him. Jackson challenged Adams for the presidency in 1828 and won.
1860 – How contentious was this election? It led to a Civil War, so that probably puts it at the top of our list. Like in 1824, multiple candidates ran in this race, each appealing to a certain section of the country. Unlike in 1824, however, Republican Abraham Lincoln won a majority of the electoral votes. Vowing that they could not live with a president who opposed the expansion of slavery, seven southern states seceded before his inauguration. Four more states seceded after Lincoln assumed office, leading to a war that lasted until 1865.
1968 – In the middle of the civil rights movement, the 1968 election also featured multiple candidates. Along with Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey, segregationist Democrat George Wallace ran, too. He appealed to blue collar voters who increasingly felt left behind by the Democratic Party’s liberalism, as well as southern voters who opposed civil rights. Humphrey’s campaign was not helped by rioting that occurred during the Chicago convention that nominated him. Ultimately, Nixon prevailed, but Wallace won 46 electoral votes.
2000 – The Supreme Court had to decide the extremely close race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which makes the 2000 election unique. Bush lost the popular vote, but the electoral vote hinged on which candidate won Florida. After weeks of uncertainty, the Supreme Court stepped in and essentially ruled that Bush was the winner. Many Democrats still consider Bush’s win tainted.
2016 – While the result is unknown, the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has become increasingly contentious as Election Day draws closer. We have seen one candidate accused of sexual assault and the other candidate accused of breaking federal law regarding classified information. With strong polling by third-party candidates, there is even the possibility this race could end up in the House of Representatives if no one receives a majority of electoral votes.
Today's presidential races seem to divide the country just as they did in the past. The difference between this year's contentious election and previous contentious elections is the presence of social media, which provides voters and candidates alike with easy access to large audiences of opinion makers. It is interesting to consider how differently those previous campaigns might have played out if the candidates had access to the media and communication tools available today.
How do you think this year's election compares to the past?