The presidential election of 1956 was a replay of the 1952 election between incumbent President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson.
The 1956 election season marked the start of television’s important role in presidential campaigns. The election, like the one before, resulted in the election of Eisenhower, who defeated Stevenson by a wider margin this time.
President Eisenhower maintained his popularity throughout his first presidential term. Though the Cold War continued, Eisenhower had fulfilled his promise to end the war in Korea and had negotiated other peace treaties and pacts. The president also fought for civil rights, helping to end segregation in schools. He appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice, leading to the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. He easily won the Republican nomination unopposed, but the choice to renominate Vice President Richard Nixon was more controversial. Eisenhower himself was unsure about whether Nixon would be his running mate, but when Nixon received many write-in votes for the presidential seat in several primaries, Eisenhower made the decision to keep Nixon as his running mate.
The Democratic race was, as in the previous election, between Adlai Stevenson II and Estes Kefauver, a senator from Tennessee. Stevenson had defeated Kefauver to win the party nomination in the 1952 election, but had lost to Eisenhower in the general election. Kefauver did well in the primaries, winning an early lead. Stevenson, worried that Kefauver would continue to beat him, challenged Kefauver to a debate, which was the first televised presidential debate in U.S. history. Stevenson, who was a powerful speaker, took the lead from Kefauver. Kefauver began to run out of money and lose support. He soon dropped out of the race after a big loss in California.
Later at the Democratic National Convention, a new contender tried for the nomination. Averell Harriman, Governor of New York contested Stevenson, but could not compete. Stevenson won the Democratic nomination, and in a surprising move, he allowed the convention to choose his running mate. The primary options for the vice presidential seat were runner-up, Kefauver, and John F. Kennedy. While Stevenson preferred Kennedy, he allowed the delegates to decide amongst themselves, and they chose Kefauver.
Just before the election, Eisenhower demonstrated his foreign policy abilities in dealing with international crises in Hungary and Egypt and successfully keeping the United States from getting involved in conflict. He worked with the United Nations on several treaties and had a good track record for keeping his country safe, while Stevenson supported ending the draft and forming a volunteer military. Television ads were a significant part of the presidential campaigns in 1956, though Eisenhower used them more effectively, especially to appeal to women.
Eisenhower won forty-one of the forty-eight states in a landslide victory. Eisenhower was reelected for a second term as President of the United States. Stevenson only defeated Eisenhower in seven states, primarily in the Deep South. One faithless elector from Alabama voted for fellow Alabaman, Walter Jones, though his vote was supposed to go to Stevenson.
|Presidential Candidate||Home State||Party||Electoral Votes||Running Mate|
|Dwight D. Eisenhower||Pennsylvania||Republican||457||Richard Nixon|
|Adlai Stevenson II||Illinois||Democratic||73||Estes Kefauver|
|Walter B. Jones||Alabama||Democratic||1||Herman Talmadge|