What Can Past Presidential Elections Tell Us About This Year’s Contest?

Rutherford B. Hayes

Presidential elections don’t just shape the federal government’s policies for the following four years — they also shape our identity as a nation. Each presidential election up to this point has affected the way our political system operates and how we as Americans respond to the ebbs and flows of history.

Past elections have cemented the value we put on the peaceful transfer of power, they have challenged our political process’ ability to root out corruption, and they’ve even threatened to break our nation in two.

What will be the legacy of this election? And what can we as voters learn from history as we head to the polls next week?

Wayne State University professor of history Marc Kruman joins Detroit Today to talk about some past elections that can shed light on this year’s race.

He says the election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, which Jefferson won, ultimately established the idea of peaceful transfer of power in a new era of partisan politics.

They really imagined the world was going to come to an end,” says Kruman. “They didn’t have any experience with two-party politics. They assumed when one party won, the world was over.”

He says we’re seeing echoes of that mentality in this year’s election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The whole idea of an existential crisis clearly has, in a lot of ways, become the major narrative of this year’s campaign,” he says.

Click on the audio player above to listen to the entire conversation.

Image credit: whitehouse.gov

This post is a part of 2016 Elections: Issues & Candidates.

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