A Look Back At The Midterm Election Of 1930 NPR's Robert Siegel talks to U.S. Senate Historian Donald Ritchie about the last time party control shifted in the House without the Senate shifting also. The last time that happened was 80 years ago -- in the midterm election of 1930.
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A Look Back At The Midterm Election Of 1930

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A Look Back At The Midterm Election Of 1930

A Look Back At The Midterm Election Of 1930

A Look Back At The Midterm Election Of 1930

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NPR's Robert Siegel talks to U.S. Senate Historian Donald Ritchie about the last time party control shifted in the House without the Senate shifting also. The last time that happened was 80 years ago — in the midterm election of 1930.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Welcome to the program once again.

DONALD RITCHIE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And tell us about the election of 1930.

RITCHIE: Well, it was a very close one. For the 1920s, the Republicans have been in the majority by large margins. But in 1929, the stock market crashed and the nation went into a depression, and the party in power took the blame for the economic collapse. And actually, the Republicans held on to a very slim majority in both the Senate and the House on election night. In fact, the speaker of the House had the only car that the House of Representatives had. And he always took the Democratic minority leader with him to work in the morning. And they exchanged telegrams saying, whose car is it? And the Democrat said, I think it's mine, but I'll be glad to let you ride.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RITCHIE: But, in fact, for a brief time, at least, the Republicans had a technical majority by about two votes. But in those days, there was 13 months before the next Congress would begin. This was before the Constitution was amended to change the date when Congress began. And during those months, 14 members of the House died, including the sitting speaker of the House of Representatives. And every time they held a special election, the depression was getting worse and worse, and the Democrats won more and more elections. And so by the time the Congress convened, there were actually three more Democrats than Republicans. Democrats had the majority in the House.

SIEGEL: How did it work out having the Senate still in control of Republicans and the House taken over by Democrats?

RITCHIE: In fact, I think in - everyone in Congress wanted to do something to stop the downward slide, and the Democrats in the House, actually, proposed to cooperate with the president. But Hoover decided that his best strategy was to veto legislation coming up from the Congress and to campaign against Congress in the 1932 election. So he actually declined the cooperation that was offered to him.

SIEGEL: So, if I understand this, what happened in 1930 was the table was set for what would be the huge Democratic landslide of 1932 when FDR was elected president and the Democrats took both houses?

RITCHIE: In hindsight, of course, we know that things got worse. At the time, President Hoover kept thinking that things were going to get better and that things would improve, but, in fact, 1932 was the worst year of the Depression and the electoral swing was enormous. The Democrats picked up almost a hundred seats in the House of Representatives. They picked up a dozen seats in the Senate. They came very close to two-thirds majorities in both bodies. And, in fact, they increased in 1934 and 1936. So in 1936, we had the largest political majority ever in American political history.

SIEGEL: Is the Congress so different today than it was in 1930 that we're only looking at curious coincidence, or do we find any resonance in what happens now from what happened in those days?

RITCHIE: Inside Congress, there used to be four parties. Each party had a conservative and a liberal wing. The latest elections have been very hard on the centrists in both parties, so that the parties are actually much more internally cohesive than they were in the 1930s.

SIEGEL: Donald Ritchie, thank you so much for talking with us.

RITCHIE: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Donald Ritchie is the U.S. Senate historian and author of the book "Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932."

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