Political parties in the United States, 1896–1929
Timeline and explanation of the development of political parties in the early twentieth century. Includes a sidebar about parties in North Carolina.
Political parties have shifted many times in 220 years of national politics. Even when parties have kept the same names for long periods, their issues, principles, supporters, and regional support all change over time.
This chart shows the evolution of political party systems in the U.S. from 11896 to 1929. Each “party system” is a roughly defined time period in which two major political parties, each with fairly consistent supporters and beliefs, dominated the political scene.
The colored lines represent organized parties that had a significant impact on national politics, electing members of Congress or receiving more than 1% of the vote for President. Where the lines merge and split, parties split or party affiliations changed dramatically in a short period of time. Presidential candidates are also listed for each party. The winner of each presidential election is designated with a bulls-eye.
Fourth party system (1896–1932)
The Republicans’ victory in the election of 1896 began an era of Republican dominance that lasted for 36 years. The only Democratic president during this period, Woodrow Wilson, was elected when the Republican Party split in 1912.
Voting blocs were essentially the same as in the third party system, with Republicans stronger than ever in the industrial North and winning support from people of all economic classes. Business interests dominated for most of this period, but the Progressive movement rose in response, demanding reforms of industry and society. Reform had some support from both parties; the questions of how to promote business while reining in its abuses dominated domestic politics. The U.S. also became increasingly involved in international affairs, in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and in Europe during World War I.
In the election of 1896, the Republicans spent unprecedented amounts of money and used new advertising techniques to reach voters. Their techniques of fundraising and advertising now became the norm for both parties.
- Effectively the only party in the “solid South,” with African-Americans prevented from voting.
- Still supported by farmers, especially in the West, but support dwindling in the Northeast.
- Southern influence meant support for economically conservative policies.
- Supported by most immigrant groups in northern cities, who favored pro-labor policies.
- Tended to oppose reforms such as Prohibition.
- Included some Progressive reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt, but dominated by pro-business conservatives after World War I.
- Strongly nationalist, supporting unity and expansion of national interests, but opposed entry into World War I. Isolationist after the war.
- More likely to support moral reform, including Prohibition.
- Dominated politics in the 1920s after the failures of Woodrow Wilson’s international policies.
- Strongly supported by women after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.