Final Returns In "The Digest's" Prohibition Poll
THE "DAMPNESS" which predominated in the first 100,000 votes tabulated in THE DIGEST'S poll four weeks ago is almost equally noticeable in the final gathering of more than 900,000 votes, whose distribution is shown in the tables herewith. Nearly 10 per cent. of the total number of citizens to whom THE DIGEST addrest ballots have marked and mailed them back, a very good return in polls of the huge dimensions and general circulation of this one, and more than 61 per cent. of those who answered express them-selves in favor of modification of the present "dry" laws. The women's vote, living up to numerous predictions, is revealing itself as "drier" than this general average. The present tabulation of feminine returns, covering 108,847 ballots, places the percentage of "dampness" in this poll at 55.3. Ever. if it is "drier" than the general poll, the surprizing fact to a good many publicists will be that the majority vote of more than 100,000 representative women is in favor of "wetness."
The women's vote of 2,200,000 ballots was the unknown quantity in the poll. Never before has anything like this number of women been polled. Along with the degree of "wetness" disclosed on the Prohibition question, and the favorable majority registered for the bonus, it appears that women do not vote in polls as readily as men do. The comment that they do not vote as readily in ordinary elections has frequent.- .3,,.. made during the recent primaries, when, in several cases, their vote was about one-third of that cast by the men. THE DIGEST'S general poll has given better than the expected 10 per cent, of returns. The women's poll, thus far, has given less than 5 per cent., and tho votes are still coming in, the chances seem to be that the total will fall considerably below the general average. The later scattering returns on all three of the polls will be tabulated and presented in a future issue. Apropos of the women's vote, an ex-soldier writes in to object that it would have been much fairer to have taken a special supplementary poll on Prohibition among _ ex-service men than among the women voters, since millions of the soldiers and sailors were out of the country when Prohibition was enacted, while the women were present at the proceedings. Other ex-soldier correspondents predict that the result of such a veterans' poll would equal the factory polls in "wetness." The last two factories polled, those of the Textile Machine Works at Reading, Pennsylvania, and of the Briggs Manufacturing Company, at Detroit, Michigan, give, together, 539 for enforcement, 3,273 for modification, and 1,640 for repeal. The total vote of the seven factories polled, with the percentages, is shown in the box in the middle of this page.
Numerous commentators on the poll's value, both for and against, have been quoted during the eight weeks in which weekly reports have appeared. Perhaps the criticism most frequently made by Prohibitionists revolves upon the possibility of a change in the Volstead Act. The Volstead Act can not be modified to permit wines and beers, it is argued, without violating the Constitution. William Jennings Bryan, one of the foremost Prohibitionists of the country, brings out this point in the course of his statement on the poll, which runs in full:
"The poll which THE LITERARY DIGEST is making is not only entirely legitimate and fairly conducted, but it is a rare illustration of journalistic enterprise. It will naturally have influence on public sentiment, and just as naturally those for and those against Prohibition will differ as to the degree of accuracy which shall be accredited to the poll. Nothing except ballots cast by all the voters can give the exact sentiment, and, of course, that is impossible without an election. The `straw vote' varies in value in proportion as it reflects or fails to reflect public sentiment as it actually is, and that is a matter of opinion and can not be proven. A poll of 2,000,000 votes out of 20,000,000 voters leaves large room for speculation.
"My comment upon the poll would be that the third question is the only one which brings out an answer which expresses an unqualified opinion. When a person votes in favor of repealing the Amendment, there can be no doubt about what he means, and this vote seems to be the smallest, both among the women voters and in the general poll. Roughly speaking, about one-fifth vote for repeal, and it is fair to assume that every one who cast such a vote is unqualifiedly in favor of the repeal of the Amendment.
"The second question is a wide-open one. It is so wide-open that it is impossible for any one to guess the views of any person who votes `yes' upon it. The word `modification' is a very broad word. What kind of modification do those believe in who favor modification? It may be a modification in mangier or method of enforcement without any change in the alcoholic content.
"Those who seek to bring back wine and beer usually ask for an alcoholic content in both wine and beer which would make them intoxicating, and yet no such law is possible while the Amendment remains in the Constitution. The Supreme Court would be compelled to nullify any law that permitted enough alcohol to intoxicate, because the Amendment prohibits the manufacture or sale of intoxicating beverages. Shall we assume that people who are opposed to the Amendment are in favor of a modification that would permit the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages? One who opposes repeal and yet favors modification must be very confused in his mind and in his reasoning if he favors a modification that would violate the Amendment. If we can assume that those who vote in favor of modification are against the repeal of the Amendment, we must assume that they favor only such modification as is permissible under the Amendment, and the only modification permissible would be a law increasing the alcoholic content from one-half of one per cent. to a per cent., a little higher, but not high enough to be intoxicating. Is it likely mat any large number of persons would make a serious effort to get a little more alcohol in a non-intoxicating drink? If they can not get a beverage that will intoxicate, why do they want any more alcohol than they can get now? It seems to me that the uncertainty as to the meaning of the second question makes the answer to that question of little value. Those in favor of Prohibition will naturally assume that all who vote for modification favor a modification that will not violate the Amendment, and can, therefore, be counted with the friends of Prohibition. Those who oppose Prohibition will naturally count all those who vote in favor of modification against Prohibition. It would look like a reflection on a man's intelligence to say that he would vote for a modification that would violate the law instead of voting for repeal."
Several legal authorities on the other side of the fence hold that it is within the power of Congress to say what alcoholic content a beverage shall have in order to be an intoxicant within the purview of the Eighteenth Amendment. The Volstead Law's definition of an intoxicant as any liquid containing more than one-half of one per cent. alcohol is considered a grievous mistake by these authorities.
Ransom H. Gillett, General Counsel for the New Fork Division of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, adduces evidence leading up to his conclusion that "there is no question as to the power of Congress to repeal the Volstead Act entirely and enact a law which will carry into
( 12) effect the Prohibition of the Eighteenth Amendment against the use of intoxicating liquors, rather than alcoholic liquors fit for use for beverage purposes." Similarly James A. Bent, an attorney of Elkins, West Virginia, writes:
"If by a fiat of the Congress it can legally and bindingly declare that a concoction composed of one-half teaspoonful of alcohol, and 99 ˝ teaspoonfuls of clear water is intoxicating, as matter of law, as a conclusive presumption, why can it not by a like binding statute and mere fiat, declare a mixture containing not exceeding, 1, 2, 3, or 4 per cent. of alcohol in volume, not an intoxicant within the purview of the Eighteenth Amendment? "
Other legal authorities of the "wet," or at least "dampist," persuasion go further along the same line. Several of them declare that a liquor containing 50 per cent. of alcohol can be declared non-intoxicating by 'Congress without violating the Eighteenth Amendment. At least, it is asserted, such a ruling would require no more straining of the truth than does the present Volstead Law with its decree that the introduction of fifty-one one-hundredth of one per cent. of alcohol into a liquid renders that liquid an intoxicant. They also accuse the "drys" of violating the Constitution by writing into it an unconstitutional amendment, while the country's back was turned.
Several "dry" leaders, on the other hand, charge that any attempt to change the present "dry" laws, or even to discuss the advisability of changing them, entails an assault on the Constitution which, as one of them expresses it, "is little less than treasonable." These extremists, whose views have been quoted at length in several recent issues of THE DIGEST, arouse columns of heated retort from advocates of the "moist" and "wet" factions, and are even at variance with the opinions of such leading Prohibitionists as Mr. Bryan, quoted in this issue, and Mr. Chalfant, editor of the Pennsylvania edition of The American Issue, the leading "dry" organ, quoted at length in THE DIGEST for August 26. Roger W. Babson, the statistician, known as a leading Prohibitionist and churchman takes a similar stand. He writes as follows, in a special letter sent out to his subscribers under date of August 29th:
"Many good people are disturbed by the result of THE LITERARY DIGEST'S vote on Prohibition. THE DIGEST mailed blank votes to nearly 10,000,000 telephone subscribers, and the returns so far are showing about 21 % for repeal of the Prohibition Amendment, 41 % for light wines and beer, and only 38 % for a continuation of the present laws. Clients and others are justified in being disturbed; but they are not justified in being surprized. When surprized, it is because we are governed by our hopes rather than by our studies. We think others are like ourselves with the same tastes, motives and desires. We figure that after a `law' is passed, we have nothing more to worry about. We forget that `making' laws does not make men. We need something like this test by THE LITERARY DIGEST to Wake US Up.
"THE DIGEST's vote is simply another evidence that legislation and even Constitutional amendments are of little benefit excepting as the desires of men and women are changed. I believe in Prohibition—voted for it and always will vote for it. 100 %'dry'—but as a statistician I realize that the vote was put through under the stress of war and without changing the basic desires of a sufficient number of people. Until the desires (or what the preachers call the 'hearts') of people are changed, legislation does not accomplish much. Such legislation is like painting a building which has rotten timbers. It is like ordering water to run up-hill. We can pump water up-hill; but as soon as we stop pumping, the water runs back again. This does not mean that the Prohibition Amendment will be repealed; but it does mean that the American people were not ready for it. Hence, it will continue to be a source of trouble, agitation and ridicule for some time to come.
"Let us not think, however, that Prohibition is in a class by itself. A great many other good causes are in an almost similar position. ‘Sunday Observance,' 'Purity of the Home,' 'Child Labor,' and a host of other good things are in the same paradoxical situation. Hardly a day goes by that an urgent appeal does not come to me to 'join' some society, league or association with
the purpose of putting across some reform. All of them are good, and they are being directed by good people.
"All organizations are up against the same problem: viz., they are trying to change the activities of men and women with-out changing their hearts; or speaking statistically—their de-sires. This is why they have an up-hill fight and always will until the desires of people change. As this time approaches, people say that public sentiment is changing. This is why public sentiment is so powerful. But public sentiment is simply a popular way of saying that the desires of people regarding a certain thing are undergoing a change. We all know how fickle is public sentiment. It will change almost over night. It is very powerful while it lasts; but it is very treacherous. Every political leader knows this. What the nation needs is to permanently in graft into the hearts of men and women right desires. Then all of these problems will solve themselves. Then with a proper system of education all the `Anti' and `Pro' leagues, associations and societies could disband.
"What does permanently change the desires of men and women? Only one thing—namely RELIGION. This has al-ways been true throughout the ages and is true to-day.
"One thing more—before we make real headway in changing the hearts of men, we must cooperate more with one another. We must subject our denominational glory for the good of all. We must put Christianity first, Churchanity second. We must cooperate with other churches and sects for the salvation of our cities and nation. Hence another lesson of THE DIGEST'S poll is that the liquor interests are united and active while the churches are divided and asleep. When the churches of America forget their theological differences and unite as one body to change the hearts of men, then and not until then shall we have real reform!"
From Ohio, where Prohibition has been and continues to be a very live issue, comes another summary of the poll, and an interpretation of its value and meaning. This interpretation is from a pro-Prohibitionist source, but, apparently, a source at variance with some of the more extreme "drys." It appears in the Akron Evening Times, and runs as follows:
"A number of earnest 'dry' advocates have criticized rather vigorously the poll now being taken by THE LITERARY DIGEST to determine public sentiment on the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act. They contend that the Amendment having been adopted, it is not good public policy even to discuss it further. They also insist that it is a reflection on law and order to take an unofficial plebiscite on the question, 'Do you favor strict enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Law?' The basis of these criticisms is that both are now the law of the land and that the question implies that their non-enforcement may be excused or encouraged by the very fact of raising the question.
"Nobody will dispute the soundness of the doctrine that so long as Prohibition is the law of the land it ought to be enforced. But the objectors to THE LITERARY DIGEST'S poll overlook one important fact; namely, that Prohibition is NOT being enforced. The fact is patent to every person with half an eye. The question asked by THE LITERARY DIGEST, instead of being out of order, is decidedly pertinent. In fact, the series of questions upon which the poll is based embodies the whole question of Prohibition as persons of intelligence must view it. Either we must have `strict enforcement'—which no observant person will claim that we now have or we must find some other alternative. That alternative may be repeal of the Amendment or modification of the Volstead Act to legalize light wine and beers, as the two propositions are stated in THE LITERARY DIGEST'S questionnaire. It is no reflection on law and order to poll public opinion on these questions. Certainly non-enforcement can not he made much more futile, no matter if the verdict of the poll were unanimous against ‘strict enforcement.' Instead of weakening respect for Prohibition, the disclosures of the poll should arouse officials to honest performance of their duty.
"The great weakness of the Prohibition Amendment—a weakness to which we have heretofore called attention even tho supporting Prohibition—is the fact that it was accomplished without any chance for popular expression on the issue. There has been much speculation as to the real sentiment of the people on the matter, with both 'wets' and `drys' claiming overwhelming advantage. THE LITERARY DIGEST poll is not an 'impertinence,' as some few professional reformers seem to believe, but a very proper and worthwhile endeavor to gain information which hundreds of thousands of fair-minded citizens have long desired."