Presidential elections hold the power to reshape history, making alternative results fun to ponder. While the effects of modern wins are difficult to evaluate, earlier elections could have set us on a divergent path. Americans explore how different things might be if pre-1984 presidential elections had different results.
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
Hayes vs Tilden – No Jim Crow
In 1876, Democrat Samuel Tilden lost to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in a disputed election. One person suggested that they didn’t want a past where Hayes lost. Rather, they wanted him to win “in a clear fashion as to no longer require the presidential compromise of 1877 that ended the reconstruction and ushered in the Jim Crow era.”
Humphrey vs Nixon – Universal Healthcare
Several people wished that Humphrey had defeated Nixon in 1968. “Humphrey would’ve built upon the work LBJ did with the Great Society,” one person said. “I’d argue that before Obamacare, America’s last chance for Western European-style universal healthcare was electing Humphrey to succeed LBJ.”
Eisenhower vs Stevenson – Stop The CIA
Another person thought the world would have been better without Eisenhower. “What would global politics look like if Esenhower’s CIA had not removed the democratically elected president of Iran, setting the stage for the religious right to stage a revolution?” They asked.
Taft vs Wilson – Less Racism
One commenter thought picking Taft over Wilson in 1912 would have been a win for Americans. “Both have similar progressive economic policies,” they said. “But Taft lacked Wilson’s superlative racism and authoritarian tendencies.”
Reagan vs Carter – Economic Benefits
Several people wished Carter had beaten Reagan in 1980. “Reagan was the worst thing to happen to modern America,” one person said, citing his economic policies, which included widespread tax cuts, lower social spending, and decreased regulation.
Jackson vs Adams – Avoid Genocide
One commenter wanted to see the 1828 election changed. “Not because he [Jackson] was the worst president in all aspects,” they said. “But because the genocide [of native americans] was a black page in history. Although it’s hard to say whether his losing the election would’ve changed it significantly.”
McGovern vs Nixon – Get Funky
Others speculated about what would have happened if Nixon had lost in 1972. “McGovern beating Nixon in 1972 could have led to some real funky different 80’s,” one person said. McGovern was known for his anti-war platform. He wanted to cut defense spending and get out of Vietnam as soon as possible.
Roosevelt vs Wilson – A Faster End To WW1
“Teddy Roosevelt in 1912,” another person said. “His breaking the tradition of only two terms might have had the US involved in WWI sooner and made that war end sooner and would’ve prevented the Wilson presidency altogether.” 1912 saw a race between incumbent President Taft, Wilson, and Former President Roosevelt.
Clay vs Polk – No Mexican-American War
One commenter thought that if Henry Clay had defeated James Polk in 1844, the U.S. might have avoided several issues. “I like to think that this could have prevented the Mexican-American War, softened or slowed the colonization process, and kept slavery more contained,” they said.
Carter vs Ford – Set a Better Stage
Many speculated about the 1976 election. “That election was a poisoned chalice,” said one commenter. “If Ford won, the GOP would have been left holding the bag during the late ‘70s malaise and recession. Come 1980, Democrats would be in a very strong position to take back the White House.”
Johnson, er, Lincoln vs Grant – Easier Reconstruction
Others got a bit more fantastical, thinking about what the country might have been if Lincoln had lived and won in 1868. “Lincoln survives his attack and realizes that he should take a harder line on Reconstruction,” one person surmised. “That results in the destruction of the ‘South shall rise again’ culture.”
Kennedy vs Nixon – No Watergate
One person fantasized about a 1960 Nixon win, noting “how different his political career would have been – no PTSD from JFK assassination in ’63, probably no Berlin wall since Nixon was so tough on communism, and definitely no Watergate.”
Hoover vs Smith – No New Deal
A few thought getting rid of Hoover in the 1928 election would have been a boon. “Hoover was mostly awful,” said one commenter. “His failure led to the blight of the ‘New Deal’ that were all still tragically stuck with.”
Bryan vs McKinley – More World Equality
One person imagined a world where countries were more equal. “I think Byran beating McKinley in either 1896 or 1900 would have put America on a much better path, and it wouldn’t be the sole superpower,” they said, then went on to note that they believed a singular superpower was the cause of many world problems.
Kennedy vs Johnson – Faster Civil Rights
In more wishful thinking, one person imagined a United States where Robert F. Kennedy wasn’t assassinated. Kennedy challenged Johnson in 1968 but was killed just a few months later on June 6th. Had he lived, this commenter imagined a smoother civil rights movement, noting, “I can’t think of a politician who was more supportive of the civil rights movement and a progressive agenda.”
Old American Politicians Are Trending
To many Americans, it seems like the majority of the people who make our country’s most important decisions are knocking on death’s door. Voters took to the internet to share their best guesses as to why.
Democrats Lose Working Class Voters, Americans Discuss Why
The makeup of American political parties is shifting, with more nonwhite and non-college-educated voters choosing to vote Republican. People discuss why that is and what it means.
International Views of Biden and the US
Are international views of Biden and the U.S. positive or negative? Pew Research Center was on a mission to find out, and these were the results.
Voters Predict Who Would Run if Biden Wasn’t
President Biden is the likely Democratic nominee for the 2024 election, but what if he wasn’t? Here’s who Americans think would run for president if Biden wasn’t.
Could RFK Jr’s Third-Party Bid Hurt Biden or Trump?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a controversial Democrat, is running as an independent in 2024. Voters theorize on what that means for the presidential race.