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Book Reviews

Book Reviews



Prejudice and the Old Politics: The Presidential Election of 1928. By Allan

J. Lichtman. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

xii - 366p.; charts, tables appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $20.00.)



The 1928 race between Alfred E. Smith and Herbert Hoover is probably

the most studied presidential election of this century. Believing that a fus-

ion of traditional and quantitative methods is necessary to explain the out-

come, Allan J. Lichtman offers a sophisticated analysis that affirms the

central role of religion in determining voter choice in 1928 and contradicts

the view that the contest represented a watershed in American electoral

history. Lichtman is highly skeptical of the favorable revisionism on

Herbert Hoover and he is even more suspicious of the validity of pluralist

politics for American society. What emerges from this book is an explicit of-

fering of much fresh data about how politics worked in the 1920s along with

an implicit thesis that somehow the real answers to the nation's problems

lay outside the two-party system. Students of American politics can use the

new information; they may be more cautious about Lichtman's less ar-

ticulate assumptions.

The quantitative material presented provides a rich portrait of how

Americans responded to Smith and Hoover. Black leaders moved away

from the Republicans in 1928; black voters did not follow them in signifi-

cant numbers. More women voted in mid-decade, and they went strongly

for Hoover over Smith. Lichtman gives less weight to economic prosperity,

urban and rural tensions, prohibition, and Smith's appeal to immigrants,

and concludes that religion best explains "the distinctive political align-

ment of 1928" (p. 231). The election reduced anti-Catholicism because

Smith lost, not because the campaign promoted ideas of religious tolera-


No brief summary can do justice to the subtleties of Lichtman's

arguments, but he may claim too much for the novelty of his findings.

Stressing the importance of Smith's religion brings scholarship back, as so

often happens, to ideas that participants themselves offered to account for

the result. The assertion that Hoover ran his own campaign, especially on

the race issue, parallels what David Burner also says in his 1978 biography

of Hoover, and Lichtman does not range as deeply into the primary sources

on this point as Burner did. In his eagerness to indict Hoover as an oppor-

tunist, Lichtman invokes some vague and thin evidence about connections

between the GOP and bootleggers.

The analysis of Al Smith's candidacy brings together the now familiar in-

formation about the Happy Warrior's economic conservatism, his inability

to reconcile anxieties about the policy implications of his religion, and his

general insensitivity to the lifestyles of Americans outside the Northeast.

Lichtman clearly wishes that Smith had attacked the Republicans more

vigorously on economic problems and had offered more of a progressive

alternative to Hoover. Yet the evidence of general voter satisfaction with