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Populists at the Polls: Economic Factors in the 1896 Presidential Election

Author

Listed:
  • Barry Eichengreen
  • Michael R. Haines
  • Matthew S. Jaremski
  • David Leblang

Abstract

The 1896 presidential election between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley has gained new salience in the wake of the 2016 contest. We provide the first systematic analysis of voting patterns in 1896, combining county-level returns with economic, financial, demographic and climatological data. Specifically, we consider the economic concerns of the Populists with falling crop prices, high interest rates and railroad monopolies. We show that Bryan did well where mortgage interest rates were high, railroad penetration was low, and crop prices had declined by most over the previous decade. Using our estimates, we show that further declines in crop prices or increases in interest rates would have been enough to tip the Electoral College in Bryan’s favor. But to change the outcome, the additional fall in crop prices would have had to be large. The counterfactual increase in interest rates appears, at first blush, to have been more modest. But where previous authors have argued that interest rates came down in the 1890s because of the entry of additional banks, our estimates indicate that bank entry would have had to be very significantly slower to tip the election. There is no question that economic grievances mattered in 1896. But small or even moderate changes in economic conditions would not have changed the outcome of the election.

Suggested Citation

  • Barry Eichengreen & Michael R. Haines & Matthew S. Jaremski & David Leblang, 2017. "Populists at the Polls: Economic Factors in the 1896 Presidential Election," NBER Working Papers 23932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23932
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    Cited by:

    1. Alexander Klein & Karl Gunnar Persson & Paul Sharp, 2023. "Populism and the first wave of globalization: Evidence from the 1892 US presidential election," Rivista di storia economica, Società editrice il Mulino, issue 2, pages 163-202.
    2. Sergei Guriev & Elias Papaioannou, 2022. "The Political Economy of Populism," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 60(3), pages 753-832, September.
    3. Gyongyosi, Gyozo & Verner, Emil, 2018. "Financial Crisis, Creditor-Debtor Conflict, and Political Extremism," VfS Annual Conference 2018 (Freiburg, Breisgau): Digital Economy 181587, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    4. Richard B. Baker & Carola Frydman & Eric Hilt, 2023. "Political Discretion and Antitrust Policy: Evidence from the Assassination of President McKinley," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66(4), pages 837-873.
    5. Emilio Ocampo, 2019. "The Economic Analysis of Populism. A Selective Review of the Literature," CEMA Working Papers: Serie Documentos de Trabajo. 694, Universidad del CEMA.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • N11 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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