"Wet" and "Dry" Spots in the Growing "Digest Poll
“NEITHER A WET WETNESS NOR A DRY DRYNESS" is the descriptive phrase applied
by the editor of the New York Globe to the drift of opinion exprest by the first
94,000 votes tabulated, in the July 15th issue; in THE DIGEST'S poll of the
nation on Prohibition. Perhaps the most significant fact about the present
tabulation of nearly four times as many votes is that, with growing numbers, the
relative strength of the "dry," "moist" and "wet" votes remains much the same.
There has been a slight drift to dryness, it is true, throughout the first three
polls, but the total change is inconsiderable.
The early showing of THE DIGEST's poll "will surely call out a vigorous statement from Mr. Anderson and Mr. Wheeler," observes the Utica Press, "but the fact remains that it appears to be a perfectly fair and free expression of popular opinion." A strong statement by Mr. Anderson, State Superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League of New York and President of the Allied Citizens of America, appeared in last week's DIGEST, and Mr.Wheeler, General Counsel and Legislative Superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League, is quoted in this number. Representatives of organizations in favor of a modification of the present liquor law also were asked to comment, in accordance with THE DIGEST's policy of presenting both sides of debated questions, and their replies were promised for this week. Colonel Walter Jeffreys Carlin, of the firm of Carlin and Gillett, General Counsel for the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, gave out the following statement:
"We believe, and the first results of the poll show, that the great majority of the people are opposed to Volsteadism And, while believing that the saloon should always be prohibited, we also believe that the right to drink light wine and beer should be afforded on land as well as on sea, for no one has ever been able to prove that the use of these beverages ever impaired the morality or usefulness of our citizens.
"THE LITERARY DIGEST's poll is one, as we understand it, taken among all classes. If it were confined to labor alone, the sentiment would be found to be almost unanimous in favor of light wines and beers. Much of the unrest in the labor world is caused by the fact that the workingmen believe that they are being discriminated against in favor of those who have well-stocked cellars or the wherewithal to get new supplies, whereas the average workingman is now placed in the position of buying poor liquor at exorbitant prices.
"It is not only labor that is discontented. Throughout all classes you find that people are beginning to realize that the Volstead brand of Prohibition, based as it is on a legislative lie which declares non-intoxicating beverages to be intoxicating, is breeding disrespect for all - law, and that the Volstead Act is held in contempt and openly violated by all classes of people who otherwise are law-abiding citizens."
A commentary on Mr. Carlin's claim that, if the poll were confined to labor alone, "the sentiment would be found to be almost unanimous in favor of light wines and beers," is furnished by the results of the first of several polls which THE DIGEST, purposes taking in various factories. A poll of the Edison. works in New Jersey gives the following results:
For Enforcement... 93
For Modification . . . . 978
For Repeal... 966
This poll was taken under the-supervision of Charles A. Edison, who saw to it that the ballots were distributed one to each worker. They were marked secretly, and deposited by the individual worker's in sealed ballot boxes, later opened by representatives of THE DIGEST. The result shows a proportion of slightly more than twenty to one against the continuation and enforcement of the present liquor laws.
Any discussion or consideration of the question of Prohibition, such as is involved in the present poll, is opposed by many "dry” advocates, on the ground that, as Mr. Anderson, of the Anti Saloon League explained in his detailed statement in these columns last week, modification would mean an attack on the Constitution, of which the Prohibition Amendment is now a part. Samuel Wilson, Assistant State Superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League of New Jersey, in charge of the Department of Law Enforcement, expresses this attitude by the very strong statement that —
"The straw vote on Prohibition now being conducted by THE LITERARY DIGEST is valueless as a test of public sentiment because based upon a fallacy.
."Were it not for the respectable antecedents of the magazine and its publishers,- Question `B' would compel suspicion that the questionnaire is a piece of wet propaganda,. It reads:
"`Do you favor a modification of the Volstead law to permit wines and beers"
"This is equivalent to an
inquiry. ‘Do you wish Congress to nullify the Eighteenth Amendment by writing
into the Volstead
Act the lie that light wines and beers are not intoxicating liquors?'.
"Congress has no such power. Light wines and beers are now, and always have been, intoxicating liquors.: They were the only intoxicating liquors known to mankind before the Eleventh Century of the Christian Era when the distillation of liquors was begun; and whoever framed that question was either ignorant of science and history or intended to deceive the public. The question is rankly unpatriotic enough to cause the founder of THE LITERARY DIGEST, my old friend, Dr. Isaac K. Funk, to turn over in his grave with indignant protest.
"Question 'A' is an insult to every loyal citizen. It reads: "`Do you favor the continuance and strict enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act?'
"This is equivalent to asking, `Would you favor nullification of the Supreme Law of the Land? Are you an anarchist?' "
This view is controverted, in part, by Wayne B. Wheeler, one of the leaders of the Anti-Saloon League, who has been active in the case against permitting liquor on United States ships. He writes us from Washington his opinion that "the poll will arouse interest in the question, and we are always the beneficiaries in the end, when there has been an honest discussion on this issue." The attitude that an honest discussion is worth while is taken by practically all the hundreds of editors, including those of the "dry" persuasion, who comment on the progress of the poll.
Mr. Wheeler, in the statement sent in response to THE DIGEST'S telegraphed request, brings up an interesting point, brought up and commented on by several newspapers. The "wets," he believes, accept every opportunity to register a pro-test, whereas the supporters of Prohibition seldom respond to newspaper referendum polls. After seeing the first returns, in which some 94,000 votes were tabulated, he telegraphed:
"Returns too meager to justify conclusions. They indicate that in States having had experience with beer and wine referendum votes, where people understand it means nullification of Prohibition, sentiment is against it. Supporters of Prohibition seldom respond to newspaper referendum polls, whereas minority opponents accept every opportunity to register protest. Only fair index of sentiment is in actual elections. In Ohio, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Arizona the votes against beer and wine amendments showed increased majority over original vote for Prohibition. Unidentified and unsigned referendum ballots with no check on fraud or forgery will be misleading unless great care is taken to prevent irregularities. Recent primary votes where beer and wine candidates opposed dry candidates furnish better index of public sentiment."
It was explained, in the last issue of THE DIGEST, that a secret process has been used to make the ballot proof against forgery, and also that the most careful precautions have been taken against fraud of every kind. In a somewhat ironical editorial, the New York World, long a mainstay of the "damp" faction, replies to some of Mr. Wheeler's strictures:
"Mr. Wayne B. Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League holds that the Prohibition poll conducted by THE LITERARY DIGEST is meaningless and of no importance, and in this he is doubtless correct. When public opinion conflicts with the league the public has no chance whatever. The dope is against it ; the dice are loaded. It may know what it wants, but it does not know how to get what it wants, whereas Mr. Wheeler need only let fall a hint in the lobby to start the legislative machinery in any direction required.
"Ohio is the only State in which the Eighteenth Amendment has run the gauntlet of a referendum. In this. solitary instance the amendment lost, yet the result was in no way affected by the balloting. The Supreme Court promptly ruled that the ratification of the Legislature was sufficient, that the citizens of the State were constitutionally incompetent in these matters. It is interesting to recollect that the people of Ohio had no objection to a State Prohibition Law; what they appeared to dislike was Federal interference. Even this was an absurd preference in the eyes of Mr. Wheeler and his friends. Ohio not only had to have Prohibition but had to have the brand of Prohibition prescribed by a central moral trust with offices as Washington:
"Official or unofficial balloting on any phase of Prohibition is consequently of slight import. The Anti-Saloon League does not mind in the least who casts the votes or how they read so long as it controls Congress and makes the laws."