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How did FDR really win in 1932?

An anti-Prohibition parade and demonstration in Newark, N.J., on Oct. 28, 1932. More than 20,000 people took part in the mass demand for the repeal of the 18th Amendment.
An anti-Prohibition parade and demonstration in Newark, N.J., on Oct. 28, 1932. More than 20,000 people took part in the mass demand for the repeal of the 18th Amendment.AP Photo

It’s the booze, stupid!

Rigorous public polling became commonplace only in the later years of the 20th century, but a new study has turned up one of the — if not the — first such polls, and it challenges a major assumption about public opinion in the Great Depression. “The 1932 poll was conducted by J. David Houser & Associates, a market research firm in New York City. It was not done for public consumption but rather as a service to the Hoover campaign; call it a confidential survey. . . What has survived is a 16-page report of the poll’s findings and methodology, archived at the Hoover Library in Iowa. . . The most striking revelation is that the electoral sway of the Depression was quite limited. The government was not seen by most voters as the major culprit or as having been ineffective in alleviating it. Even many FDR voters agreed. . . What loomed larger in 1932 was the issue of Prohibition. The American people overwhelmingly favored repeal. The Democratic stand on it — that is, outright repeal — was a sure electoral winner, given Hoover’s staunch defense of Prohibition.” This is consistent with the fact that, at the Democratic National Convention that year, FDR’s repeal pledge got “more enthusiastic applause than his pledge of a New Deal; it also was bigger news on the front page of The New York Times.”


Norpoth, H., “The American Voter in 1932: Evidence from a Confidential Survey,” PS: Political Science & Politics (forthcoming).

Throwing shade at developing countries

An analysis by economists finds that the average intensity of ultraviolet sunlight in a country is negatively associated with the quality of that country’s government, even controlling for various other geographical characteristics. Given that this is partly explained by the incidence of cataracts, the economists theorize that “populations facing a permanent threat of developing eye disease have historically had a lower incentive to invest in cooperation via institution building.”


Ang, J. et al., “Sunlight, Disease, and Institutions,” Kyklos (forthcoming).

Counseling her to be calm

Researchers at Arizona State University filmed lawyers delivering a mock closing statement based on one that a prosecutor had delivered at an actual murder trial. Each lawyer delivered the statement once in a calm tone and once in an angry tone. Viewers of these videos thought a male lawyer was more effective if he was angry than if he was calm, whereas a female lawyer was deemed less effective if she was angry than if she was calm.

Salerno, J. et al., “Closing with Emotion: The Differential Impact of Male versus Female Attorneys Expressing Anger in Court,” Law and Human Behavior (August 2018).

Double-secret probation

If you’re a college admissions officer worried that bad news is always bad news, your worrying days are over. A new study finds that the opening of a Title IX investigation by the Obama administration regarding sexual assaults at a college actually increased applications and enrollment by males and females. (The increase in enrollment “is immediate for males and only shows up one to two years later for females.”)

Student retention and degree completion were also not negatively affected. Because Google search data suggests that these investigations were salient to the public, the researchers conclude that the extra publicity simply raised the college’s profile.

Lindo, J. et al., “Any Press is Good Press? The Unanticipated Effects of Title IX Investigations on University Outcomes,” National Bureau of Economic Research (July 2018).


Trump should thank newspapers

Economists in China analyzed the language used in articles covering China by local newspapers in the United States and found that a newspaper’s slant was more negative if the industries in the newspaper’s circulation area faced more competition from Chinese imports. Through 2012, slant against China helped Democratic candidates, but in 2016, it helped Republicans. The economists estimate that about 5-15 percent of the effect of Chinese imports on political outcomes is explained by newspaper slant.

Lu, Y. et al., “Exposure to Chinese Imports and Media Slant: Evidence from 147 U.S. Local Newspapers over 1998–2012,” Journal of International Economics (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com