Election Superstitions and Fallacies

"It is somewhat late to consider whether the superstitions and traditions of a hundred or more years are to stand, in the result in November."

On both sides a start is made by conceding the 'solid South' to the Democrats, not without a reservation on the part of the Republicans that they have a chance to win some votes in that part of the country. But in fact the South has not been 'solid' since 1892. Five of the Southern States have already broken away, partially or wholly, from their traditional attachment to the Democratic party. Delaware and West Virginia have at the last four quadrennial elections given their electoral votes to the Republican candidates. Maryland did so in 1896, and cast a divided vote in 1904 and 1908. Kentucky was carried by the Republicans in 1896; Missouri, in 1904 and 1908. These are what used to be known 'before the War' as border states, but they did also once form a part of that South which was solid to a degree.

The North has usually been quite as solid as the South, but the circumstances which have brought about solidarity in the one region and the other are altogether different. The South has maintained a defensive attitude against a policy toward the relics of its former 'domestic institution' which it has fancied the dominant party of the North to be ready at any moment to launch against it; whereas, in truth, as every man in the North, whatever his politics, knows, that party has not for thirty years had the courage to undertake such a policy, however strong its inclination to do so may have been. So the South has been needlessly in an attitude of apprehensive defense, when it might have made itself more secure by an alliance with the timid enemy. The North, on the other hand, has been united because a majority of the people have favored a domestic policy which had no reference to a North or South, and which is as advantageous or as disadvantageous to the one region as to the other.

It is, unquestionably, the wish of every man who takes a statesmanlike and patriotic view, that no groups of States should be solid, but that the citizens of any State should approach national questions in a national spirit, differing in opinion as they must, but seeking to promote the general welfare, and fearing no assaults upon their own local interests, because convinced that their political opponents are as patriotic as themselves.

The first incident of the canvass which sets men thinking and revising their election forecast is the State election in Vermont. Before it takes place the politicians on both sides manifest an eager interest in the result. If the Republican majority should fall below a certain number of thousands the Democrats expect a victory for their party in November. A normal majority—so the Republicans assure themselves—foretells their own triumph.

After the election one party exults over the result as an infallible forecast of what is to occur in November; the other speaks contemptuously of 'the Vermont superstition,' and declares there is nothing in it. Yet the result is in almost all cases a sure prognostication of what is to happen, as is the result in Maine shortly afterward; and it is not a superstition. On the contrary, it is founded upon a philosophical principle that cannot be successfully disputed. Mr. Bryan was as surely defeated in 1896, when Vermont gave Grout thirty-eight thousand majority, as he was when the polls closed in November. In order to maintain this proposition it is not necessary to suppose that a single voter anywhere in the country changed his political intention as a consequence of the Vermont election, or that any man, previously undecided, determined to 'jump on the band-wagon.' The real reason is that men in Indiana, in Idaho, and in Vermont, influenced by the same motives, and listening to the same arguments, act in the same way. Some of them, of course, are drawn in one direction, others in the opposite direction, according to what manner of men they are, and what original opinions and tendencies they represent.

Grant that Vermont is not, politically speaking, a typical American community, yet it does contain all sorts and conditions of men, although in different proportions from the distribution in many other communities. When, therefore, it appears that there has or has not been a perceptible political change, caused by a movement by one or more of the many classes of population from one party to the other, the country is supplied with a reasonably trustworthy view of the state of political sentiment in Indiana, Idaho, and elsewhere. Events, it is true, may occur between September and November that will affect and modify political action all over the country, and in Vermont as well; but they must be events, and not merely transitory waves of sentiment.

We frequently see in the newspapers, a few weeks before the election, statements by political correspondents that the prospects of this party or the other have improved or grown less promising during the week past, or that there is now a perceptible drift toward this candidate or that. Do readers ever stop to consider what this means, or whether there can possibly be any foundation for such statements? Does any one suppose that there is ever a considerable body of voters in any State who are undecided how they will vote, and who secede in a flock from their party one week, and return to it the next? Or if there were such a body, can any one suggest how the sapient correspondents ascertain the fact? It may not be an unjustifiable conjecture that the sole basis of such statements as we are considering is the state of mind, optimistic or the reverse, of the committee chairman or the local politician who communicates information as to the political situation to the newspaper interviewer. The chairman may have received a despondent letter from a county manager, and from it may conclude that the cause is in a bad way in that part of the State. Or he may have had a good night's rest and an excellent breakfast. His mood will determine the character of his outgivings. But, in reality, nothing has happened; or if it has, he does not know it.

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