Immigrants found relief through Democratic Party local organizations, using resulting practical leverage to gain desperately needed employment in the fire and police departments, and other city services. Those jobs could be tedious as well as dangerous but brought regular pay, and usually involved some security.
After World War II, the big cities were challenged and then overcome by the rapidly expanding suburbs. Earlier rural-urban divisions faded. In 1960, suburbs for the first time had a plurality of the electorate. By 1992, the suburbs held a majority. Successful Democratic presidential nominees John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton demonstrated strong appeal in the suburbs.
In the 1950s, popular commentaries often casually referred to the suburbs as Republican, but that was not actually true. They were more Eisenhower suburbs — the incredibly popular Republican Dwight Eisenhower carried them as he did the rest of the country.
Suburban residents, however, did not completely abandon the Democratic sympathies of their parents and grandparents.
As reference to Ike implies, individual leaders are crucial. FDR was essential to forging the new Democratic Party majority, combining expanding urban centers and the traditionally Democratic South. Ronald Reagan was brilliantly successful in drawing working people away from their Democratic Party loyalties.
As a result of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover became widely reviled, and was rejected overwhelmingly in the 1932 election. Every post-World War II president except Eisenhower has run into serious trouble during his second term.
Re-elected presidents, and their associates, should remember the adage of ancient Rome — “All glory is fleeting.”
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College.