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Henry Judd

The Elections: Workers Show Little Campaign Interest

(November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 46, 16 November 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The elections and their results have already been forgotten, particularly in the excitement caused by the American attack and occupation of Vichy’s North African colonial possessions. But it is still worth our while to see if we can discover any meaning behind the tremendous Republican Party gains and its sweeping national gains in the Senate, the House of Representatives and various state governorships.

Huge Decline in Total Vote

Although no figures have yet been issued as to the total number of people who voted throughout the entire country, it is clear that there was a great decline in the vote.

In the 1936 presidential campaign, 45,000,000 people voted. In the 1940 presidential campaign (FDR vs. Willkie) a grand total of 50,000,000, the largest ever, cast their ballots. Preliminary reports indicate that a mere thirty to thirty-five million voted this year. That is, there was not only a decline of about 33 per cent in the number of voters, compared with 1940, but there was evea a decline of about 20 per cent, compared with those who voted in 1938, the last non-presidential national election year.

Considering that there are at least 60,000,000 people in the United States who are over 21 years of age and eligible to vote, we see that about half voted. What clearer indication is there of the general lack of interest and apathy in the elections just concluded? This apathy is of extreme interest.

Of course, many of the New Dealers and their apologists advance various reasons for the small vote. All of them, no doubt, had something to do with it.

  1. The general decline that traditionally takes place in an off year, non-presidential election. (But, to remind the reader, there was a 20 per cent drop below 1938!)
  2. The fact that millions of eligible voters were in the Army camps and Navy training centers, with almost 1,000,000 abroad.
  3. The fact that many workers were working too long, or could not get off from their war production jobs, or were not eligible to vote since they had recently moved to some war center and therefore could not legally qualify.

Workers Least Interested

But all this could not fully account for the lack of interest in the elections. Although no figures are yet available which will reveal the drop in voting of various groups of the population (workers, middle class, etc.) it is a safe bet that by far the GREATEST decline took place in the working class vote.

Workers were least of all interested because no candidates raised any social or economic issues; all harped alike on their support of the war; none fought against labor regimentation, freezing of wages, unequal war burden, profiteering or ANY of the issues that concern American workers and arouse their interest. In this respect, it was the dullest, most backward and reactionary election held in America for many long years. It was a purely machine politics fight between Tweedledee Democrat and Tweedledum Republican. There was not the slightest serious difference between the contending parties and their various colorless and uninspiring candidates. And the workers consequently expressed their indifference by ignoring the polls.

Republican Sweep Pro-War Tendency?

A ludicrous and stupid effort is being made to explain the Republican gains in Congress, etc., as evidence of a critical attitude toward FDR’s conduct of the war and as a mandate for a more aggressive and vigorous offensive military policy. The entire press, Republican and Democratic alike, join hands in this absurd interpretation. To consider the large vote for the conservative, Tory-led, die-hard and antiquated Republican Party a pro-war and aggressive vote is to read into the results something that just isn’t there. The vote was neither pro-war nor anti-war, except insofar as abstentions indicated lack of interest.

PM – the New York daily newspaper for men of liberal opinions and disposition – has, as usual, the most snobbish and stupid interpretation of the whole matter. Quoting Roy Howard’s New York World-Telegram, which explained that the people were voting against the New Deal Administrations because they want more war effort (conversion of industry, rigid control of gasoline and rubber, manpower stabilization, unified command, etc.) PM complains that it wasn’t the New Deal and FDR who were responsible for the slow and soft war effort, but the “reactionary or isolationist Republicans.” The people didn’t understand this and they voted for the “outs” and against the “ins.” “That’s all oversimplified, of course,” adds PM. It certainly is, especially if you try to sneak in a pro-war interpretation, no matter how.

A Conservative, Middle Class Vote

Democratic Senator Prentiss Brown – the FDR man who pushed through the Senate the price-fixing legislation – and who was badly defeated in Michigan by Republican Ferguson of Detroit, understood the vote better than most. He blamed his defeat, in a statement, on “resentment aroused by the imposition of wartime restrictions on the daily life of the people.” That is, the vote was a middle class reaction to the annoyances, inconveniences and blows against traditional American living standards brought about by the imperialist war.

It was a vote against rationing of gas and sugar, against increased income taxes, against the disappearance of traditional American products (radios, cars, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, etc.) from the consumer market. It was a vote of farmers displeased by their loss of farm labor into the army; of salesmen thrown out of work by the conversion ot industry; of all the small merchants, middlemen, real estate operators, petty business executives, etc, affected by the various decrees and rules handed down by the Washington war bureaucracy.

Only in New York State, where 400,000 workers, despite the treacherous conduct of their leaders (as described in last week’s Labor Action) voted for the American Labor Party ticket, is it possible to find any sign of a working class vote – unfortunately cast for a party that is a labor party in name only, and not at all in action. It nevertheless indicates that New York labor is ready tor a genuine labor party.

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