Political Perspective – 2016
Richard J. Garfunkel
July 30, 2016
As a life-long registered and active Democrat, I have always been fascinated by why people vote the way they do. It may surprise most Americans that the Democrats have not captured the white male vote since 1944. In that year, soldiers were allowed to vote, and even the Republicans of that day, opposed their right to vote, the Roosevelt Administration fought for that right and prevailed. Some have forgotten that in those days, one had to be 21 to vote, and many soldiers in 1944 were not 21. But the young men who did serve, probably remembered no president other than FDR, and he was a heroic figure who was their Commander–in- Chief. Of course, in the next three elections, the white male vote was split four ways, in 1948, between Truman, Dewey, Wallace and Thurmond. Obviously, a great many Southern white males voted for the Thurmond the Dixiecrat. In the two Eisenhower victories over Stevenson, Ike did well with the large veteran vote, as the former WWII, European Theater Commander. Of course, the Democrats had won five straight presidential elections, and controlled Congress from 1930 until 1946. Even though they lost Congress for a two year period, the Democrats would regain their legislative domination until Ronald Reagan.
Since the end of the Truman Era, what happened to the demographics of the electorate? Well during the Depression, laboring men were able to unionize more easily and collectively bargain. Most women went along with how their husbands voted, African-Americans were disenfranchised in the South and Northern Blacks shifted from the Party of Lincoln to the Democrats after 1936. Interestingly, many women voted for Warren Harding in 1920. New England and the South were the most solid bastions of white Protestant English-heritage voting blocs. In their midst were Welsh, Scots, Dutch and Germans, with a smattering of Catholics and a tiny amount of Jews. The Southern States were States’ Rights Democrats, and often Republicans did not even have Electors (the Electoral College) on the ballot. The New England states, along with northern NY and rural Pennsylvania were dominated by white Protestants and Republicanism. In the cities, where immigrants had flocked since the late 1840s, there were the Catholics, first dominated by the Irish and then by the 1880s there was a new influx of Jews, Italians, Greeks, Slavs and Russians. These folks became the nucleus of the new Democratic electorate. In the sparsely settled West Democrats actually dominated many of the rural states and Republics ruled in California.
In most cases, the Republican Party dominated American politics from Lincoln in 1860 to FDR in 1932. In between the Democrats won four elections with Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson. In those years they benefitted by splits in the Republican electorate, corruption and the need for reform.
Today we are in the midst of a new revival of Nativism. The first period was in 1850s with the Know-Nothings, or the American Party. They were xenophobic, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant and for sure racist. The second period came in post WWI Era when severe and draconian laws were passed to limit immigration and restrict Jews, Southern European Catholics, and Eastern European Slavs and Russians from entering the country. The old Republican cry of the 1880s, accusing Democrats of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion was echoed in the Harding Era immigration laws of 1921 and 1924. The ruling class had seen enough of the type of immigrants from the period of the 1880s through 1914. They were sickened by WWI and feared internationalism. This fear would be dominant up until the beginning of WWII.