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

Research in Economic History

ISBN: 978-1-78973-304-4, eISBN: 978-1-78973-303-7

Publication date: 26 August 2019


The 1896 presidential election between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley has new salience in the wake of the 2016 presidential contest. We provide the first systematic analysis of presidential voting in 1896, combining county-level returns with economic, financial, and demographic data. We show that Bryan did well where interest rates were high, railroad penetration was low, and crop prices had declined. 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 changes would have had to be large.




We thank Price Fishback, Jonathan Kirshner, Frances Lee, Eric Schnickler, Richard Sutch, Gavin Wright and participants in the February 2018 conference of the All-UC Group in Economic History for their helpful comments.


Eichengreen, B., Haines, M., Jaremski, M. and Leblang, D. (2019), "Populists at the Polls: Economic Factors in the US Presidential Election of 1896", Research in Economic History (Research in Economic History, Vol. 35), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 91-131.



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