Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

1945 Election: You Decide!

September 3rd, 2010 · 2 Comments

Sir Winston Churchill

Picture obtained from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/churchill_winston.shtml

While walking through the Churchill Museum and War Rooms this afternoon, I was again amazed to think that Winston Churchill lost the 1945 election despite his legendary leadership during the Blitz and astronomically high approval ratings. At first glance it is hard to imagine anything similar happening in a national U.S. election. Could anyone imagine a president leading the United States triumphantly through a war, only to be defeated the next election to someone that served under them? After looking at the exhibits in the Churchill Museum, and doing a little bit of research, I have found three fairly compelling reasons as to why Churchill lost the 1945 election. Take a look at them, written from least compelling to most, and see if you think any of these reasons would lead to a similar upset in the United States.

1) Age

Many analysts claim Churchill’s old age could have discouraged many British citizens from voting Conservative in the 1945 election. This cannot be the definitive answer, as Churchill went on to become Prime Minister only a few years later despite being even older. However, evidence seems to suggest that a significant number of voters could have been swayed by Churchill’s age. Could age have such an influence on the American electorate? I am reminded of all of the talk about John McCain’s age in 2008. From my vantage point, age in either country can only have a negligible effect on the result.

2) Labour(Atlee) was better at domestic policy, and the war was over

According to this argument, the end of WWII marked a shift in priorities for the British electorate. Voters favored the person who had the better domestic policy, and found that person (at the time) to be Atlee. Could anyone see a US president being kicked out of office after having an overwhelmingly successful first term because the policy issues are different? I have a very difficult time seeing such cold rationalism, which does not seem to give any credence to all of Churchill’s successes during his time as Prime Minister, becoming a predominant factor in a US election.

3) People were not voting for/against Churchill, they were voting for their local MP

Since citizens only vote for MPs, many citizens could have been focused on local issues and priorities, and not been concerned about the national leader. This is where things really begin to fall into the hypothetical when comparing the US electorate to that of the UK. If this argument holds water(and I believe it is the most convincing reason why Churchill lost the election) I think it demonstrates the most glaring difference between US and UK voters. If given the option to vote for president or local representative, US citizens will vote in the national election nine times out of ten. This is seen in the disturbingly low turnout for non-presidential elections. UK citizens, seemingly, prioritize local elections to a much larger extent than their US counterparts.

For some more information on the 1945 election, you can out this link:


 So what do you think? Does Churchill’s defeat make sense? Could a similar electoral result happen in the US?

Tags: 2010 Andrew