1920’s primaries were the first where women could vote in New York state. Henrietta Wells Livermore, Chair of New York’s Republican Women’s State Executive Committee in 1920, insisted it was vital that women vote, or else men may regret allowing suffrage at all:
According to the opinion of old-time politicians, it is only about 15 per cent of the men who turn out at the primaries. The women do not dare duplicate this figure. They will be accused of lack of interest, of playing with the vote as with a toy, of having the time but not the inclination to use that power over which they have fought for so long.
That number has about doubled a century later, with 28.5% of eligible voters voting in either a Republican or Democratic presidential primary in 2016. That represented the second-highest percentage since 1980, though a bit short of the modern record 30.4% in 2008.
The change was likely caused because primaries in 1920 generally didn’t “count” like they do now. Most states didn’t even have primaries — Oregon became the first in 1910 — and candidates were still ultimately decided at national conventions anyway.
Take four years later, in 1924. The Democratic primaries were won strongly by William McAdoo, while party leader wanted Al Smith. As a result, the convention took 99 ballots to nominate the compromise candidate John W. Davis, who few truly wanted as their first choice. Davis only won 25.6% of the Electoral College and 28.8% of the popular vote, losing decisively to Calvin Coolidge.
Priming the Feminine Voter for the Primaries: Political and Non-Partisan Organizations Establish Correspondence Kindergartens to Teach the A B C of the Ballot — Magistrate Norris Sees Opportunity Which the Male Contingent Has Neglected
Published: Sunday, April 4, 1920