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Politics in a Pluralist Democracy: Studies of Voting in the 1960 Election, by Lucy S. Dawidowicz and Leon J. Goldstein

Ethnicity and Power

Politics in a Pluralist Democracy: Studies of Voting in the 1960 Election.
by Lucy S. Dawidowicz and Leon J. Goldstein.
Institute of Human Relations Press. 100 pp. $2.75; paper, $1.75.

The American novel has been much concerned with ethnicity, but it was in the study of politics that its persistence as a factor in American life was first formally acknowledged, and that the first attempts were made to measure it. The same year Al Smith ran for President, Stuart A. Rice's Quantitative Methods in Politics was published; and since the 1928 campaign—in which, of course, questions of religion and national origin came directly to the fore—political scientists, creative journalists like Samuel Lubell, and the new breed of poll-takers have been responding to the insights of the politicians whose profession it is to count votes, and who in surprising degree turn out to have been doing so in terms of ethnicity.

In the calamitous years since 1928, world events would seem, at least superficially, to have become increasingly dominated by ethnic and religious controversy. First, Nazi Germany began the systematic annihilation or debilitation of entire groups of human beings defined by religion or nationality. Japan set out to expel the white man from Asia. The United States went to war against both, and—as if it were an entirely natural thing to do—condemned a host of Japanese Americans to maltreatment of a kind without precedent in our history. With peace came the establishment of Israel, the partition of India, the emergence of Red China and Black Africa. Many of the most powerful events in recent history have assumed a specifically ethnic cast; and when these events subsided, however momentarily, French Canadians, Greek Cypriots, Belgian Walloons, or Malay Chinese promptly turned up in the headlines (not to mention the disappearance of the Stone of Scone).

The United States has been no exception. In the forced growth of the years that followed the 1928 election an immense transformation occurred: among Jews most dramatically, but also among various Catholic nationalities and Negroes. What happened is difficult to define and perhaps impossible to demonstrate, but the impression is overwhelming that a generation after Al Smith, the younger members of the “minority” groups that he represented emerged in quite disproportionate numbers among the most talented men and women of the time; far from catching up—in the arts, in business, in politics, in scholarship and science—they were now leading. The 1960 election, when a Catholic again ran for President, was therefore fought on quite different terms from the one of 1928.

It was certainly never the purpose of John F. Kennedy to be an ethnic candidate. “Contrary to common newspaper usage,” as he told the Houston ministers, “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic party's candidate for President.” He kept his campaign focused on the large national issues, but ethnic politics were instinctive to his camp, and that they were not greatly in evidence is a measure, pure and simple, of the skill with which they were pursued. In any event, Kennedy had no choice. Ethnicity is part of what politics is about in America; the economic and ethnic and social and political interests are all tied together. (Asked if he was going to vote for Kennedy because the candidate was a Catholic, a Buffalo worker answered, “No, because I am.”)


In Politics in a Pluralist Democracy, Lucy S. Dawidowicz and Leon J. Goldstein have written a concise and immensely interesting account of how questions of religion and national origin affected voting for and against Kennedy. Taking off from Lubell's thesis that “dichotomies—such as liberalism-conservatism or isolationism-internationalism—which are often attributed to differences in class, region or ideology [are] also, perhaps primarily, expressions of ethnic interests, disagreements or conflicts,” the authors assert that we do not begin to probe the importance of such traditions in politics “unless we advance beyond the customary attempts to determine the mutual tolerance of Protestants, Catholics and Jews.”

The study that results from their own advance beyond these customary attempts is a singularly lucid and graceful introduction to the entire subject of ethnicity in American politics. Without the least effort to be definitive, Mrs. Dawidowicz and Mr. Goldstein contrive to be amazingly comprehensive. The returns come in from South Boston and Cincinnati; from Louisiana bayous and Tennessee uplands; from Los Angeles and Detroit suburbs. And the details fascinate. In Rhode Island, to choose an instance, there is now a Yankee vote, ranging over the ballot in search of Saxon surnames in the best tradition of first- and second-generation immigrants; French Canadians by tradition hold one of the state's two seats in the House of Representatives; in Providence, Negroes are apt also to be Catholics with Portuguese surnames acquired in the Cape Verde Islands. Similar complexities obtain elsewhere. Catholics living in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, 60 per cent of whose residents are Jewish, went less heavily for Kennedy, and Protestants in the same suburb more heavily for him, than their co-religionists in another Detroit suburb where there are almost no Jews. In this latter suburb, the Catholic-Protestant votes were lopsided and almost balanced: Nixon received 80 per cent of the Protestant vote, while Kennedy got 79 per cent of the Catholic. The Jews in Oak Park, who had given 76 per cent of their primary votes to Stevenson, went on to give Kennedy 93 per cent of their votes in the election—here (as apparently elsewhere) a higher proportion than Kennedy received from any other religious or ethnic group.

In Tennessee, fundamentalist in religion but liberal in politics, Nixon did better than Eisenhower had done. In eleven counties, of which all but three had voted for Al Smith, not one went for Kennedy; from that fact the authors surmise that the religious issue for this group may have become more rather than less important in the interval. So also would seem to be the case in a group of counties in Southern Illinois. Among Lutherans and Methodists in Southern Ohio, however, the religious issue seemed to have declined in importance and even more notably so among Lutherans in Minnesota.

Writing for the Institute of Human Relations of the American Jewish Committee, Mrs. Dawidowicz and Mr. Goldstein are naturally much interested in the “aberrant” nature of Jewish voting. “In occupation and income, they most nearly resemble Presbyterians and Episcopalians, upper-status Protestant denominations.” While similarly situationed Protestants and Catholics vote Republican in considerable numbers, no other group in the population—not trade unionists, not Negroes, not young people, not anyone—has so consistently supported the Democratic party in recent years. Where most groups tend to be liberal on this or that particular issue, Jewish voters keep the faith across the board. The authors make the important observation that this pattern began with Al Smith (half the Jews in America lived in New York in 1928) rather than with Roosevelt, but that is about as far as they get.

And some such point is about as far as anybody gets in writing about ethnicity in American politics. Yet now that ethnicity has entered so securely into the vocabulary of both political science and political journalism,1 surely we need to know much more about how it does in fact manifest itself. Voting analyses based on returns for “Polish” wards, “Irish” precincts, “Lutheran” counties, and such, were a useful beginning, but open to all manner of error, and severely restricted in subject matter. To do better, sociologists and political scientists will almost certainly have to go out and create their own samples which they can then study in depth and over time, much as Peter H. Rossi and Andrew M. Greeley are proposing at the National Opinion Research Center. The time is also at hand for some highly sophisticated quantification, as well as for comparative studies involving similarly situated groups as, for instance, the Liverpool Irish, the Argentine Italians, or the Brazilian Germans. Much work remains to be done on the older migrant groups in America. The questions abound. For example, are patriotic societies of the Revolutionary War vintage to be regarded, as Mrs. Dawidowicz and Mr. Goldstein suggest, as “essentially Anglo-American ethnic organizations,” no more to be deferred to than Clan na Gael or The Sons of Italy? Or, to take a much more important question, can the past and the future of the American Negro best be understood in terms of this general phenomenon, or is theirs a situation distinct from that of all others?


It is time, moreover, that we began asking why, contrary to all predictions, the successive immigrant groups have never quite disbanded in America. In some cases, indeed, their group consciousness has grown stronger, not weaker, over the years. Is this because ethnicity involves values not easily available elsewhere in the modern world? If so, what are these values? We need not only a theory of ethnicity, but an analytical technique for tracing its effects, both good and bad; and we need a set of guiding principles for encouraging the good while moderating and controlling the bad.

The most perplexing problem, however, is that of group rights. Groups do not have rights in America; only individuals do. But groups have interests, have problems, have identities, and ought to have responsibilities. Mrs. Dawidowicz and Mr. Goldstein observe that “the predominant political philosophy of the English-speaking countries is individualistic and rationalistic; it understands how individuals can act in their own interest, but is not able to deal with the impact of groups and group traditions.” In accordance with this tradition, the best we have been able to do is prohibit discrimination against an individual because of membership in a group. It may be there is no need to go further; it may even be that much harm is to be had from going further. On the other hand, group rights certainly precede individual rights in human history, and perhaps the relation between them is not antagonistic or mutually exclusive. Perhaps there is a sequential relationship: until a people has obtained the strength that comes from collective rights, individual prerogatives will not be able to take its members very far. The relevance of this problem to our present situation is only too obvious; and if we do not cope with it properly, it will end by tearing us apart.


1 Time, for example, in the opening paragraph of its issue reporting on the 1964 San Francisco Convention of the Republican party declared: “And, remarkably, although the party is predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, it chose as its candidates Barry Morris Gold-water, 55, who is half-Jewish, and William E. Miller, 50, who is a Roman Catholic.”

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