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Susan Green

What Do People Think About the New Deal?

(29 November 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 48, 29 November 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Polls have been so thoroughly discredited that one hesitates to refer to them in any way, shape or manner. Yet a pre-election survey taken by the magazine Fortune (quoted by pollster Elmo Roper in his column What People Are Thinking) is worth attention. This survey which dealt with the American people’s reaction to the New Deal, showed before the election that, in the moderate words of Mr. Roper, “the people of this country are not opposed to the liberal objectives and nature of the New Deal legislation.”

One question included in the survey was: “Thinking back to the last depression, would you say that the New Deal measures under Roosevelt on the whole did more good than harm or more harm than good?” Of the people asked this question over 61 percent thought the New Deal did more good than harm; over 23 percent felt the opposite to be true; the remaining 15 percent expressed no opinion.

Following the same theme, namely, the New Deal and the depression, the next question was: “Would you say that the New Deal measures under Roosevelt shortened the depression considerably, shortened it a little, or did not shorten it at all?” The answers indicated an even more favorable reaction to the New Deal. Almost 66 per cent of the respondents were of the opinion, rightly or wrongly, that the measures credited to Roosevelt shortened the depression, with 38 percent of that number believing that these measures shortened the depression CONSIDERABLY. Only 13 percent expressed no opinion and 20 percent replied that the New Deal did not shorten the crisis at all.

The final question along the same line was: “Would you say that the New Deal measures under Roosevelt lessened the severity of the depression on the people considerably, lessened it a little, or didn’t lessen it at all?" More respondents were sure that the Roosevelt legislation lessened the severity of the depression on the people than were sure that the legislation shortened the crisis. Nearly 75 percent of the participants in the survey thought that the New Deal helped the people during the depression, with more than 41 percent believing the help was CONSIDERABLE. Accordingly, the number of those having the opposite opinion dropped to a mere 12.8 percent and the number with no opinion was only 11.8 percent.

People Want More

Putting some flesh on these bare figures, what do we have? There was the intervening war period when the New Deal was exchanged for the Raw Deal – when Roosevelt discharged Dr. New Deal and hired Dr. Win-the-War who prescribed the no-strike pledge and the wage-freeze for labor but fat, juicy profits for capital. Still the people remember that the government, under the compulsion of a crisis, did something for them. The people do not figure that the Roosevelt administration was following an enlightened capitalist policy to pull the capitalist system out of a crisis that threatened to engulf it. Neither do the people now complain of the extent of the help then given. They remember merely that it was help. They approve of legislation that is “for the people.” Indeed by their vote on election day they clearly said they want more of the same.

Still another question included in the Fortune survey was even more concrete on the function of government: “Do you think the government should provide for all people who have no other means of obtaining a living?” Though stilted and limited in wording, the implications of this question are plain. It implies a certain responsibility of the government to the people, a responsibility to see that they get the wherewithal to live. The staunch individualists answering this question, which is one of principle, numbered 18.9 percent of the total, less than one fifth. Those with no opinion were fewer on this question than on any other, a mere 8.1 percent. Those wishing to place responsibility on the government were 73 percent of the total, almost three fourths.

Just why the pollsters, having this information, did not change their prophesies as the Truman campaign got under way using the slogans, promises and phraseology of the New Deal, is one for the books. To serious political thinkers the information gathered in this Fortune survey can mean only one thing. During the last twenty years a profound revolution has taken place in what used to be the definitely individualistic thinking of the people of this country.

Moreover, the idea that the function of government is to take care of the people, is considered by the great majority of those polled by Fortune as quite American. In a test on word associations, 13.6 percent connected the word “Radical” with the New Deal; only 12 percent linked “Regimentation” with it; and at the bottom of the list 8.2 percent associated “Communistic” with New Deal. Thus, government “for the people” seems to dovetail into the democratic conceptions of the country. Of course, the question is whether capitalist government which is not of and by the working masses can be for them in a lasting and basic sense.

That there is criticism of the methods of the New Deal, though not of its avowed purpose, was indicated in that 32.4 percent of the respondents associated the words “red tape” with the New Deal and 30.6 connected the word "Wasteful” with it. But the pay-off is that Dewey whose strong points were exactly the elimination of red tape and waste, was defeated in favor of Truman’s positive promises for liberal legislation wanted by farmers, workers and consumers.

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