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The United States presidential election of 1956 saw a popular Dwight D. Eisenhower successfully run for re-election. The 1956 election was a rematch of 1952, as Eisenhower's opponent in 1956 was Democrat Adlai Stevenson II, whom Eisenhower had defeated four years earlier.

Incumbent President Eisenhower was popular, but had health conditions that became a quiet issue. Stevenson remained popular with a core of liberal Democrats but held no office and had no real base. He (and Eisenhower) largely ignored the civil rights issue. Eisenhower had ended the Korean War and the nation was prosperous, so a landslide for the charismatic Eisenhower was never in doubt.

This was the last presidential election prior to the statehood of Alaskamarker and Hawaiimarker, who would first take part as states in the 1960 presidential election. It was also the last election where at least one of the major candidates was born in the 19th century.


Republican Party

Republican candidates Image:Dwight D. Eisenhower, official photo portrait, May 29, 1959.jpg|President Dwight D. Eisenhower of New Yorkmarker

As 1956 began there was some speculation that Eisenhower would not run for a second term, primarily due to concerns about his health. In 1955 Eisenhower had suffered a serious heart attack, and in early 1956 he underwent surgery for ileitis. However, he quickly recovered after both incidents, and after being cleared by his doctors he decided to run for a second term. Given "Ike's" enormous popularity, he was renominated with no opposition at the 1956 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, Californiamarker.

The only question among Republicans was whether Vice President Richard Nixon would once again be Eisenhower's running mate. There is some evidence that Eisenhower would have preferred another, less-partisan and controversial running mate, such as Governor Christian Herter of Massachusetts, and according to some historians (such as Stephen Ambrose), Eisenhower privately offered Nixon another position in his cabinet, such as Secretary of Defense. However, Harold Stassen was the only Republican to publicly oppose Nixon's renomination for Vice-President, and Nixon remained highly popular among the GOP's rank-and-file voters. Nixon had also reshaped the vice-presidency, using it as a platform to campaign for Republican state and local candidates across the country, and these candidates came to his defense. In the spring of 1956 Eisenhower publicly announced that Nixon would again be his running mate, and Stassen was forced to second Nixon's nomination at the Republican Convention. Unlike 1952, conservative Republicans (who had supported Robert A. Taft against Eisenhower in 1952) did not attempt to shape the platform. The only thing notable about the Republican Convention was that one delegate voted for a fictitious "Joe Smith" for Vice President in order to protest everything being unanimous.

Democratic Party

Democratic candidates

Candidates gallery

Image:AdlaiEStevenson1900-1965.png|Former Governor Adlai Stevenson of IllinoismarkerImage:SenatorKefauver(D-TN).jpg|Senator Estes Kefauver of TennesseemarkerImage:William Averell Harriman.jpg|Governor W. Averell Harriman of New YorkmarkerImage:37 Lyndon Johnson 3x4.jpg|Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texasmarker


Adlai Stevenson II, the Democratic Party's 1952 nominee, fought a tight primary battle with populist Tennesseemarker Senator Estes Kefauver for the 1956 nomination. Kefauver won the New Hampshire primary unopposed (though Stevenson won 15% on write-ins). After Kefauver upset Stevenson in the Minnesotamarker primary, Stevenson, realizing that he was in trouble, agreed to debate Kefauver in Florida. Stevenson and Kefauver held the first televised presidential debate on May 21, 1956 before the Florida primary. Stevenson carried Florida by a 52-48% margin. By the California primary in June 1956 Kefauver's campaign had run low on money and could not compete for publicity and advertising with the well-funded Stevenson. Stevenson won the California primary by a 63-37% margin, and Kefauver soon thereafter withdrew from the race.

Popular vote results

Democratic National Convention

At the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicagomarker, New York Governor Averell Harriman, who was backed by former President Harry Truman, challenged Stevenson for the nomination. However, Stevenson's delegate lead was much too large for Harriman to overcome, and Stevenson won the nomination on the first ballot.

The roll call, as reported in Richard C. Bain and Judith H. Parris, Convention Decisions and Voting Records, pp. 294-298:

Presidential Balloting, DNC 1956
Contender Vote
Adlai Stevenson 905.5
Averell Harriman 210
Lyndon B. Johnson 80
Stuart Symington 45.5
Albert Chandler 36.5
James C. Davis 33
John S. Battle 32.5
George B. Timmerman 23.5
Frank J. Lausche 5.5

Vice Presidential Nomination
Democratic candidates:

Candidates gallery

File:SenatorKefauver(D-TN).jpg|Senator Estes Kefauver of TennesseemarkerImage:Senator JohnFKennedy.jpg|Senator John F. Kennedy of MassachusettsmarkerFile:Albert Gore Sr..jpg|Senator Albert Gore, Sr. of TennesseemarkerFile:RobertFWagner.png|Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. of New York CitymarkerFile:HubertHumphrey.png|Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesotamarker

The highlight of the 1956 Democratic Convention came when Stevenson, in an effort to create excitement for the ticket, made the surprise announcement that the convention's delegates would choose his running mate. This set off a desperate scramble among several candidates to win the nomination; a good deal of the excitement of the vice-presidential race came from the fact that the candidates had only one hectic day to campaign among the delegates before the voting began. The two leading contenders were Senator Kefauver, who retained the support of his primary delegates, and young Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was relatively unknown at that point. Although Stevenson privately preferred Senator Kennedy to be his running mate, he did not attempt to influence the balloting for Kennedy in any way. Kennedy surprised the experts by surging into the lead on the second ballot; at one point he was only 15 votes shy of winning. However, a number of states then left their "favorite son" candidates and switched to Kefauver, giving him the victory. Kennedy then gave a gracious concession speech. The defeat was actually a boost for Kennedy's long-term presidential chances; by coming so close to defeating Kefauver he gained much favorable national publicity, yet by losing to Kefauver he avoided any blame for Stevenson's expected loss to Eisenhower in November. The vote totals in the vice presidential balloting are recorded in the following table, which also comes from Bain & Parris.

Vice Presidential Balloting, DNC 1956
Ballot 1 2 before shifts 2 after shifts
Estes Kefauver 466.5 551.5 755.5
John F. Kennedy 294.5 618 589
Albert Gore, Sr. 178 110.5 13.5
Robert F. Wagner, Jr. 162.5 9.5 6
Hubert Humphrey 134 74.5 2
Luther Hodges 40 0.5 0
P.T. Maner 33 0 0
LeRoy Collins 29 0 0
Clinton Anderson 16 0 0
Frank G. Clement 14 0 0
Pat Brown 1 0 0
Lyndon Johnson 1 0 0
Stuart Symington 1 0 0

General election


[[Image:1956prescountymap.PNG|thumb|right|400px|Election results by county.

Stevenson campaigned hard against Eisenhower, with television ads for the first time being the dominant medium for both sides. Because Eisenhower's 1952 election victory was due, in large part, to winning the female vote, there were a plethora of "housewife" focused ads.

Stevenson proposed significant increases in government spending for social programs and treaties with the Soviet Unionmarker to lower military spending and end nuclear testing on both sides. He also proposed to end the military draft and switch to an "all-volunteer" military. Eisenhower publicly opposed these ideas, even though in private he was working on a proposal to ban atmospheric nuclear testing. Eisenhower had retained the enormous personal and political popularity he had earned during the Second World War, and he maintained a comfortable lead in the polls throughout the campaign.

Eisenhower was also helped by two foreign-policy crises that developed in the weekend before the election. In Soviet-occupied People's Republic of Hungary, many citizens rose up in revolt against the Soviet Army; their revolt was brutally crushed within a few days by Soviet troops. In Egyptmarker, a combined force of Israeli, British, and French troops seized the Suez Canal; Eisenhower condemned the seizure and pressured the allied forces to return the canal to Egyptian control. These two events led many Americans to rally in support of the President, thus swelling his expected margin of victory. The Eisenhower administration had also supported the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954; this ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court ended legal segregation in public schools. As a result, Eisenhower won the support of nearly 40% of black voters; he was the last Republican presidential candidate to receive such a level of support from black voters.

On election day Eisenhower took over 57% of the popular vote and won 41 of the 48 states. Stevenson won only six Southern states and the border state of Missourimarker, becoming the first losing candidate since 1900 (William Jennings Bryan vs. McKinley) to carry the Show-Me-State. The next time Missouri would go in favor of the losing candidate would be 2008 (Obama vs. McCain), again by the slimmest of margins. Eisenhower carried Louisianamarker, making him the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state since Reconstruction in 1876.


Source (Popular Vote): Source (Electoral Vote):

Close states (Margin of Victory Less than 5%)

  1. Missouri, 0.22%
  2. Tennessee, 0.62%
  3. North Carolina, 1.33%

(a) Alabama faithless elector W. F. Turner, who was pledged to Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver, instead cast his votes for Walter Burgwyn Jones, who was a circuit court judge in Turner's home town, and Herman Talmadge, governor of the neighboring state of Georgiamarker.

Because of the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states in 1959, the 1956 presidential election was the last in which there were 531 electoral votes.

See also


  • Missouri is often considered to be a 'bellwether' state because it has almost always voted for the winner of every Presidential election for the past century. 1956 is one of two exceptions as it voted for Stevenson (by only 3,984 votes out of more than 1.8 million cast; most of this margin was provided by the City of St. Louismarker).

  • As of 2008, the 1956 election was the last time in which the election was a rematch of the election held four years earlier. (Rematches also occurred in 1800, 1828, 1840, 1892, and 1900.)

  • As of 2008, the 1956 Democratic vice presidential vote was the last time any convention voting went to a second ballot



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