It’s not over till it’s over
For Sharon Montgomery, the shock she felt on the morning of November 5, 2008 has still not worn off. The headline read, “McCAIN DEFEATS OBAMA, COUNTRY AND WORLD IN SHOCK!” and Sharon had to pinch herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. Every national poll had Obama leading, some by as much as 10 points just days before the election. Even McCain’s most vocal supporters were showing signs of doubt. Sharon could not think of one person she had spoken with that said they were going to vote for John McCain this year. The economy was miserable, the unemployment rate was at one of the highest points in years, foreclosures of homes were rampant, and McCain described the economy as fundamentally sound. Obama had a plan for the economy, he had a plan for the middle class, and except for Bill O’Reilly, every media personality supported him. The election was not predicted to even be close; so what happened?
This story is obviously false, but it is being used to relate to the election of 1948, where there were very similar circumstances. Just to give a little bit of background as to what the conditions of that period were like, WWII had ended and the country was looking forward to the return of economic prosperity. When that did not immediately happen, current President Harry Truman was taking the blame and criticism for the country's hardships. In general, people were tired of government controls such as price restrictions and rationing, which were associated with the Truman administration and the Democratic Party (Hughes).
Imagine waking up in Chicago on Nov 3, 1948, the day after the presidential election, and picking up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune, then reading the headline Dewey Defeats Truman. If that were the case, you would probably not have been surprised, since Dewey had been favored in all national polls by as much as 15 points prior to the election. In fact, most polling had ceased weeks before the presidential election because the election was going to be such a landslide in Dewey’s favor. The background of this historic presidential election was that it featured two prominent candidates, although there was a third named Strom Thurmond who won some electoral votes. Incumbent president and Democratic nominee Harry S. Truman had succeeded President Franklin D. Roosevelt after he died less than three months after beginning his fourth term as president. Republican nominee and New York governor Thomas E. Dewey was Truman’s opponent as well as the heavy favorite to win the election. As mentioned above, national polls as well as the news media were convinced that the election was over before the votes were counted and this led to what is now called one of the greatest elections upsets in American history.
Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence Theory “focuses on the idea that individuals fear social isolation and monitor their social environments for evidence of the extent to which their opinions match the trends of dominant opinion.”(McDonald, etc.) If an individual fears that his or her opinion is losing ground or not in the majority, he or she is less likely to voice any honest feelings and opinions in public. Eventually, the theory explains that only the hardcore types will continue to speak out and voice their true opinions in public while the rest of the supporters will stay silent.
One of the most famous photographs linked to the 1948 presidential election was taken on November 3, 1948. This was the day that the results were official and Truman proudly held up his copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune, with the front page claiming Dewey the winner.
Research after the election has supported that Truman supporters were not giving accurate responses to pollsters because they felt like Truman was going to lose and they were not comfortable voicing their opinion. In fact, as many as 1 in 7 voters had not even made up their mind with two weeks until Election Day. Of the 1 in 7 that made their decision later in the election, three quarters of them were have said to vote for Truman. Because of the fact that national polls were not even being taken at that point, the public as well as the media were convinced the election was going to take an inevitable course of Dewey being elected the next president.
Politics has always been an area where so many of us are not comfortable about expressing our true feelings. One reason may be that it is something we consider very private in our lives and another reason may be we know how passionate people are about their beliefs and for most of us, it is an argument we would rather not get into. In any case, the media will always play a role in our perception of the candidates. What would have happened in 1948 if Truman voters stayed home because they felt hopeless for their candidate? Would our country be the way it is today? The Spiral of Silence is just a theory but many aspects of it seem evident in this election.
1. Do you do your own research before voting or do you base your decision on the opinion from someone politically knowledgeable that you trust?
2. If the candidate that you were going to vote for was obviously not the popular choice, would you feel comfortable engaging in a debate with a group of supporters of the more popular candidate or would you be more likely to keep quiet?
3. If you believed that your candidate had no chance to win, what would be the longest line you would be willing to stand in to place your vote?
4. Why or why not do you believe national election polls accurately predict the feelings of the public?
5. Why do you believe national election polls are either fair or unfair to candidates and the public?
6. The Spiral of Silence theory says that only the hardcore supporters will voice their honest opinion in public; do you agree?