The Pittsburgh Press (October 15, 1942)
By editorial research reports
Polls of public opinion show a trend toward the Republicans in the coming elections for Congress. One such poll reported last May that the Democrats stood to gain 28 House seats. In August, this Democratic gain had been reduced to eight; in October, the prediction was for a Republican gain of 15-35 seats. To get control of the House, the Republicans would have to gain about 50 seats. Sixty-three of the House seats won by Democrats in 1940 were won by margins of 5% or less of the total vote cast.
Democratic politicians are hoping that this trend toward the GOP will prove to have been slowed down by the President’s trip across the country, despite the absence of publicity for it; and by his radio talk on Columbus Day, despite its forecast of lowering the draft age to 18 and of conscripting manpower generally.
One prediction is that 20 million men and women who voted in 1940 and 10 million who voted in 1938 will not vote in 1942. The turnout is always less in years when there is no presidential contest; in addition, millions of young people are in the Armed Forces or have shifted to new localities (Registration in New York City is 12% lower than in the mid-term election year of 1938). The Soldiers Vote Act of Sept. 16, 1942 allows every qualified voter in the Armed Forces to vote for President and for members of Congress without registering (also without paying poll tax).
The smallness of the vote in November is counted upon to aid the Republicans. The absentees will be largely young men and women who in 1932, 1936, or 1940 cast their first ballots for President Roosevelt, and hence thought of themselves loosely as Democrats. One poll of public opinion estimates that of every three men and women who do not vote in November, two will be Democrats, one will be a Republican. In most of the primary contests this year the Republican vote held better than the Democrat. Democrats hope that the gasoline shortage will keep many Republican-minded farmers from the polls, but gasoline rationing is still in effect only in the East.
Why don’t more people vote? Even in the presidential election year of 1932, when dire Depression might be expected to send everybody to the polls, only 70% of the eligibles voted.
One answer is, of course, the one-party system in the South, where the results are a foregone conclusion. But in 1932, only 67% of the adult population voted in Ohio, 71.5% in Kansas, 72% in Massachusetts, 68.5% in California.
Another reason is the considerable number of disqualifying factors – literacy tests, insufficient residence, pauperism, lack of citizenship, temporary absence from the district (poll taxes apply only in eight Southern states).
In 1924, an intensive study of more than 5,000 non-voting eligibles in Chicago adduced the following reasons for the dereliction:
Indifference or sheer absence – 36%
Illness – 14%
Absence – 11%
Ignorance or timidity – 7%
Insufficient legal residence – 5%
Disbelief in woman suffrage (less prevalent now) – 9%
Disgust with politics – 10%
Miscellaneous – 8%