If you’re planning to stand as a candidate for the U.S. presidency, you’ll obviously need a snappy slogan. Ideally, it should encapsulate what you’re all about and capture the imaginations of the voters. But where do you start? Well, here’s a round-up of successful election slogans from the past – as well as a few failed ones. Read this, and you should have all the information you need to create a winning slogan.
40. William Henry Harrison – ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler, too,’ 1840
The slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” is probably obscure to all but the keenest historians among us. Here’s the explanation: the Battle of Tippecanoe was fought in 1811 between the U.S. Army and and forces loyal to the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. The former – under the generalship of William Henry Harrison – scored a conclusive victory. He clearly wanted to emphasize this successful military past in his election campaign. Meanwhile, “Tyler” was John Tyler – Harrison’s running mate.
39. James K. Polk – ‘Reannexation of Texas and reoccupation of Oregon,’ 1844
In the 1844 election, James K. Polk’s slogan was the somewhat pedestrian, “Reannexation of Texas and reoccupation of Oregon.” It might have lacked wit, but it had the virtue of clarity. Polk was determined that Texas and Oregon should be firmly clasped by the Union. More memorable is the slogan of Polk’s opponent: Henry Clay. It was simply, “Who is James K. Polk?” For reference, this is a phrase that played on the fact that the latter was none too well known.
38. Zachary Taylor – ‘For president of the people: Zachary Taylor,’ 1848
“For president of the people: Zachary Taylor” is certainly clear in its message. But you could say that it lacks poetry. In any case, it did the trick, and Taylor was duly elected as the 12th president of the U.S. Perhaps that was because his opponent Lewis Cass had an even less inspiring slogan. His went, “The sub treasury and the tariff of ’46.”
37. Franklin Pierce – ‘We Polked you in ’44, we shall Pierce you in ’52,’ 1852
You might think Pierce’s 1852 slogan sounds vaguely indecent. But the point he was making was that the Democrat James K. Polk had won the presidency eight years earlier, and Pierce would repeat that victory for the same party. In reality, the latter did win, even though, like Polk, he was far from a household name.
36. John Fremont – ‘Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont,’ 1856
“Free Soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont” has the virtue of repetition and is a play on the candidate’s name. But it scorns the virtue of brevity. Nevertheless, these words helped John Fremont win the election. There was also a simpler and arguably much stronger slogan connected with the campaign, “Fremont and freedom.” The latter catch phrase succinctly trumpeted his anti-slavery views, too.
35. Abraham Lincoln – ‘Vote yourself a farm and horses,’ 1860
Abraham Lincoln’s first attempt at winning the presidency came in 1860. And he certainly didn’t mince his words! The candidate appeared to promise everyone a farm and horse – whether they wanted them or not. But it seems that those were the very things that a sufficient number of voters dreamed of owning, and Lincoln was duly elected.
34. Abraham Lincoln – ‘Don’t change horses in midstream,’ 1864
Lincoln’s slogan took a rather different turn when he stood for re-election in 1864. Now, instead of promising everyone a horse, he warned against changing the animal in midstream. In fact, it’s said that it was Lincoln who first used this phrase, which has since entered the pantheon of hackneyed cliché. Of course, the great man was referring to the fact that the Civil War had not yet run its course.
33. Ulysses S. Grant – ‘Let us have peace,’ 1868
About a century before John Lennon sang “Give peace a chance” in 1969, Ulysses S. Grant declared, “Let us have peace” on the campaign trail. Of course, the two men were referring to very different conflicts. And it’s highly unlikely that Lennon was thinking of Grant when he made his heartfelt appeal for an end to the military intervention in Vietnam. Grant, of course, was referring to the Civil War, which had ended just months before he stood for election.
32. Ulysses S. Grant – ‘Grant us another term,’ 1872
When he stood for re-election in 1872, Grant opted for a play on his own name. Once you see it, the pun has an air of absolute inevitability – the slogan just had to be, “Grant us another term.” His principal opponent Horace Greeley opted for the belligerent, “Turn the rascals out.” But it did the latter no good. Grant won a second term in the White House – taking both the popular and the electoral college votes.
31. Rutherford B. Hayes – ‘Hayes the true and Wheeler, too!’ 1876
In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes adopted the slogan, “Hayes the true and Wheeler, too!” This echoed William Henry Harrison’s 1840 rallying cry, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.” And the phrase had the great advantage in that the way it scanned meant it had to be sung to the same tune used 36 years earlier. Hayes’ adversary used his own name in his rather pedestrian slogan, “Honest Sam Tilden.” Though the electorate was unimpressed. In fact, there was fierce argument over who had actually won the election. But Hayes prevailed nonetheless.
30. James A. Garfield – ‘From the tow-path to the White House,’ 1880
During James A. Garfield’s second and successful bid for the presidency in 1880, he decided to emphasize his humble origins. The candidate’s father had died while he was still an infant and Garfield had been forced to work on a farm to support his mother. From the age of 17, he’d worked on the Ohio and Erie Canal moving boats along the waterway – hence the tow-path reference. Tragically, just four months after the election Garfield’s second term ended abruptly at the hands of an assassin.
29. Grover Cleveland – ‘Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine,’ 1884
When it comes to negative campaigning, “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine” is a classic of its genre. Cleveland and his supporters were determined to draw the voting public’s attention to their opponent’s alleged dishonesty. But James G. Blaine retaliated in kind. “Ma, ma where’s my pa, Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha” was the Blaine camp’s riposte. This referred to the fact that Cleveland had fathered and abandoned a child out of wedlock. Apparently, presidential elections were not for the delicate in the 19th century!
28. Benjamin Harrison – ‘Grandfather’s hat fits Ben,’ 1888
According to The National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance, Benjamin Harris was not keen on the strategy of cashing in on the family name. Instead, he preferred to be seen as a self-made man. But his campaign team was determined to exploit the fact that his grandfather William Henry Harrison had been president nearly 50 years earlier. It was certainly a more memorable slogan than his opponent Grover Cleveland came up with, “Unnecessary taxation oppresses industry.”
27. Grover Cleveland – ‘Our choice: Cleve and Steve,’ 1892
Having won the 1884 election but lost four years later, Cleveland stood again in 1892 – this time successfully. To this day, he’s the only man to have served two non-consecutive presidential terms. The slogan that helped him back into the White House was, “Our choice, Cleve and Steve.” Sure, it’s hardly Shakespeare, but at least it included a rhyme! Steve was his running mate: Adlai Stevenson. And the latter’s grandson of the same name was an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1952.
26. William McKinley – ‘Four years more of the full dinner pail,’ 1900
When William McKinley stood for a second term in 1900 – having won the 1896 election – he opted for a slogan that focused on the electorate’s bellies. At the dawn of the 20th century, it seems that a promise of plentiful food was something that could still sway the voters. Sure, the rallying cry, “Four more years of the full dinner pail” would hardly inspire modern Americans. But back then it put McKinley into the White House.
25. Theodore Roosevelt – ‘To assure continued prosperity elect Theodore Roosevelt for president,’ 1904
In 1904 Teddy Roosevelt – already president because of McKinley’s assassination – decided the best way to win votes was to appeal to America’s pocket books. It’s probably fair to say that this tactic has served politicians well throughout history. But considering Roosevelt’s reputation as a charismatic populist, it seems like a surprisingly insipid appeal. Nevertheless, it helped win him the presidency.
24. William Howard Taft – ‘Get on the raft with Taft,’ 1908
Think about it for a few moments and you’ll agree that there are few words that rhyme with Taft – apart from raft. Well, daft does too, but it’s scarcely appropriate for a positive election slogan! So, you could almost say that, “Get on the raft with Taft” wrote itself. And the catchy phrase – which was also put to music – was strong enough to help give Taft a term in the White House.
23. Woodrow Wilson – ‘Win with Wilson,’ 1912
“Win with Wilson” has an undeniably jaunty quality. It’s one of the more memorable slogans inflicted by politicians on long-suffering American electors over the years. By contrast, the incumbent William Howard Taft’s slogan, “It is nothing but fair to leave Taft in the chair” has a disturbingly plaintive tone. In the event, it wasn’t enough to give Taft a second term. Wilson did win – by a landslide.
22. Woodrow Wilson – ‘He kept us out of war,’ 1916
Although lacking the élan of the 1912 “Win with Wilson” catchphrase, “He kept us out of war” was no doubt a welcome message for many U.S. voters. The conflict in question was of course WWI, which had started two years earlier. But having won the election on that ticket, Wilson took America into the Great War in 1917 anyway.
21. Warren G. Harding – ‘America First,’ 1920
Politicians often appeal to patriotism to drum up votes, and that’s exactly what Warren G. Harding did with this slogan. It’s perhaps understandable that a presidential candidate would promise to put his country first after the horrors of WWI. That had ended only a couple of years before the election. Harding had another slogan which reflected the nation’s trauma after the war, “Back to normalcy.”
20. Calvin Coolidge – ‘Keep cool with Coolidge,’ 1924
“Keep cool with Coolidge” almost sounds like an advertisement for some type of soda, doesn’t it? Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of Coolidge’s main campaign advisers was an advertising man: Bruce Barton. The latter was a towering figure in the advertising world of his day. He’s also credited with creating the Betty Crocker character as well as helping Coolidge into the White House.
19. Herbert Hoover – ‘Who but Hoover?’ 1928
It might have been a tad presumptuous, but “Who but Hoover” proved to be a highly successful slogan – propelling him into the presidency. His Democrat opponent Alfred E. Smith had a catchphrase that would certainly not pass muster in today’s world. It was, “Vote for Al Smith and make your wet dreams come true.” In fact, the slogan referred to Smith’s promise to end Prohibition.
18. Franklin D. Roosevelt – ‘Happy days are here again,’ 1932
“Happy Days are here again” was actually the title of a jolly tune written in 1929 and adopted by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign. And a restoration of happy days was just what Roosevelt promised U.S. voters back in 1932. Of course in that year – in the midst of the Great Depression – happiness was something that was in distinctly short supply. But the electorate decided that FDR was the man to restore the nation’s fortunes.
17. Franklin D. Roosevelt – ‘Forward with Roosevelt,’ 1936
Having promised voters happy days at the 1932 election, four years later Roosevelt invited them to move forward with him. His Republican opponent Alfred M. Landon chose to attack Roosevelt’s depression recovery policies with the slogan, “Defeat the New Deal and its reckless spending.” The success of Landon’s catch phrase can be judged by the Electoral College results: Roosevelt – 523 votes; Landon – eight.
16. Franklin D. Roosevelt – ‘Better a third termer than a third rater,’ 1940
In 1940 FDR stood for an unprecedented third term – an impossibility nowadays thanks to a 1951 constitutional amendment mandating a two-term limit. This time, Roosevelt’s campaign slogan included a sly dig at his Republican rival: Wendell L. Willkie. While FDR would be a third termer, his opponent was merely a third rater! The public apparently agreed – giving Roosevelt his third term in office.
15. Franklin D. Roosevelt – ‘We are going to win this war and the peace that follows,’ 1944
Much of Roosevelt’s third term in office was entirely dominated by WWII. When the 1944 election came round, final victory was still a good nine months distant but increasingly assured. So the slogan this time was simply a rallying call to the American people. Competing candidate Thomas E. Dewey came up with the rather asinine “Well, Dewey or don’t we.” Unsurprisingly Roosevelt won but he died in April 1945 before he could enact his slogan.
14. Harry S. Truman – ‘I’m just wild about Harry,’ 1948
Like Roosevelt before him, Harry S. Truman turned to the title of a song from a popular musical. “I’m just wild about Harry” was a cheerful number from a 1921 Broadway hit called Shuffle Along. Thomas E. Dewey had a second tilt at the White House after his defeat by FDR. This time his catch phrase was, “Dew it with Dewey” – perhaps a slight improvement on his previous campaign’s, “Well, Dewey or don’t we.” It didn’t win him the election, although it’s said to have been the first ever political slogan printed on a T-shirt, according to the BBC.
13. Dwight D. Eisenhower – ‘I like Ike,’ 1952
Almost fiendish in its simplicity, “I like Ike” is surely one of the most memorable slogans ever to have graced American politics. Dwight D. Eisenhower was universally known as “Ike.” So there would have been vanishingly few American voters that didn’t instantly catch the meaning of the words. Adlai Stevenson – the Democrat candidate – had a slogan almost as catchy, “Madly for Adlai.” But it did him no good.
12. Dwight D. Eisenhower – ‘I still like Ike,’ 1956
Eisenhower’s team apparently decided not to spend too much time on their second effort at the presidency. They merely added a single word to generate, “I still like Ike.” Adlai Stevenson’s people on the other hand put in more effort, although it was to no avail. They came up with the horribly labored, “Adlai and Estes – the bestest.” For reference, the latter was Stevenson’s running mate.
11. John F. Kennedy – ‘A time for greatness,’ 1960
JFK’s slogan for his first presidential campaign certainly didn’t lack self-confidence. “A time for greatness” could be seen as a prime example of over-weaning egotism. But that’s not the way the American public saw it and they voted him into office – albeit by a slim margin. This election is remembered for being the first that included a televised debate between the two candidates: JFK and Richard Nixon.
10. Lyndon B. Johnson – ‘All the way with LBJ,’ 1964
John F. Kennedy was assassinated before he could stand for a second term, so the Democrat candidate in 1964 was his successor Lyndon B. Johnson. “All the way with LBJ” is a tame enough election slogan. But the gloves came off in a response to the catch phrase of LBJ’s electoral rival: Barry Goldwater. His was the fairly sedate, “In your heart, you know he’s right.” So, Johnson supporters responded with, “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”
9. Richard Nixon – ‘Nixon’s the one!’ 1968
Richard Milhous Nixon ran in 1968 with “Nixon’s the one,” and it proved to be an effective slogan which helped him into the Oval Office. In a convincing victory, the popular vote gave him 301 votes in the Electoral College versus 191 for his Democrat opponent Hubert Humphrey. Unusually for presidential elections in the modern era, a third candidate – the independent George Wallace – managed to take 46 Electoral College votes.
8. Richard Nixon – ‘Nixon now!’ 1972
In his 1972 re-election bid, Nixon plumped for an even shorter slogan than in his previous campaign. This time it was just two words – the rather bland, “Nixon now!” Though some rival campaigners came up with rather more colorful slogans. One such was, “Dick Nixon before he dicks you.” The somewhat ribald response from Nixon’s supporters was, “They can’t lick our Dick.” But in the end, Nixon was thoroughly licked. Although he’d won the election, the Watergate affair forced his resignation.
7. Jimmy Carter – ‘Not just peanuts,’ 1976
Famously, Jimmy Carter had been a peanut farmer in Georgia before politics became the main focus of his life. So it was entirely apt for his campaign team to go with, “Not just peanuts” as an election slogan. Carter also used the slogan, “Peaches and cream.” Georgia, of course, is famous for its peaches. The cream? Well, Carter’s running mate was Walter Mondale, who was from Minnesota where the state drink is milk.
6. Ronald Reagan – ‘Make America great again,’ 1980
Uncannily reminiscent of a more recent presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan’s 1980 slogan was, “Make America great again.” And it did the trick; Reagan won the election with an emphatic landslide. He got nearly 44 million votes against the incumbent Jimmy Carter’s 35 million or so. Evidently, Carter and his running mate Walter Mondale’s insipid slogan, “A tested and trustworthy team” failed to hit the spot.
5. Ronald Reagan – ‘It’s morning again in America,’ 1984
In his bid for a second term, Republican Ronald Reagan chose the optimistic, “It’s morning again in America.” The advertisers’ association website 4As declared that, “It’s considered by many to be the most successful presidential ad campaign in history.” The Democrat candidate Walter Mondale went with, “America needs new leadership.” But the voters disagreed and Reagan got his second term.
4. George H. W. Bush – ‘Kinder, gentler nation,’ 1988
George H. W. Bush ran for president in 1988 with the slogan, “Kinder, gentler nation.” In fact, this is a phrase he first used in his Republican presidential nomination acceptance speech. Though the elder Bush also used another rallying cry, which was aimed directly at American purses and pocket books. That was the popular, “Read my lips: no new taxes.”
3. Bill Clinton – ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’ 1992
James Carville – Bill Clinton’s campaign manager – stuck copies of the, “It’s the economy, stupid” epithet on the walls of the Democrats’ headquarters and it took off from there. It seemed to hit a nerve among the American public, who apparently agreed that the economy was the key issue in 1992. Incumbent George Bush used a slogan echoing Abraham Lincoln’s in 1864. Bush’s version was, “Don’t change the team in the middle of the stream.” Lincoln had advised voters not to change horses. The latter had won with it – but Bush lost.
2. Bill Clinton – ‘Building a bridge to the 21st century,’ 1996
Bill Clinton first uttered the phrase, “Building a bridge to the 21st century” in his acceptance speech for the Democrat’s presidential nomination. His Republican opponent used the slogan, “Bob Dole. A better man. For a better America.” But the majority of Americans apparently thought Clinton was the better candidate. He won a handsome victory – taking 379 Electoral College votes to Dole’s meager 159.
1. George W. Bush – ‘Compassionate Conservatism,’ 2000
George W. Bush – the second member of the Bush family to win a presidential election – favored the branding, “Compassionate conservatism.” Meanwhile, his Democrat rival for the presidency was Al Gore. The latter’s slogan was, “Leadership for the new millennium.” Though as it turned out, he wouldn’t be taking the helm since Bush won the election by the slimmest of margins.