Has the Power of Public Opinion Waned?

Was the power of public opinion on American politics declining in 1918? Job E. Hedges, former Republican candidate for New York governor, said yes and blamed it on political primaries:

With the increase in our population, the average citizen is necessarily unable to have before him all the facts from which to draw his conclusions and express himself affirmatively or negatively at the polls. This necessarily compels the citizen to act through a representative of his selection with similar beliefs. Here the direct primaries have demonstrated their inefficiency. They have militated against the formation of public sentiment and at the same time increased the power of money.

The first state to hold a presidential primary was Florida in 1901, and by 1920 (two years after this article was published) 20 of the 48 states had primaries. But Hedges’ argument caught hold as many states discontinued their primaries. Indeed, as late as 1968, only 12 states used them.

The modern presidential primaries as we know them today — first Iowa, then New Hampshire, with all states participating — truly began in 1976.

As for “the power of public opinion,” modern polling as we know it today wouldn’t begin until the Gallup Organization’s founding in 1935.

Has the Power of Public Opinion Waned?: Job E. Hedges Says It has Ceased to be a Great Aggressive Force in America Since the Direct Primary Idea Became Popular (PDF)

From Sunday, February 3, 1918

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Written by Jesse

February 2nd, 2018 at 9:45 am

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