Public Opinion, Organized Labor, and the Limits of New Deal Liberalism, 1936-1945

69 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2010

See all articles by Eric Schickler

Eric Schickler

University of California, Berkeley

Devin Caughey

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: August 30, 2010

Abstract

The seemingly wide opening for liberal domestic policy innovation of the early-to-mid 1930s gave way to a much more limited agenda in the late 1930s and 1940s. The latter years saw the consolidation and gradual extension of several key programs (e.g., Social Security and Keynesian macroeconomic management), but also the frustration of liberal hopes for an expansive “cradle-to-grave” welfare state marked by strong national unions, national health insurance, and full employment policies. Drawing upon rarely used early public opinion polls, we explore the dynamics of public opinion regarding New Deal liberalism from this pivotal era. We argue that a broadly based reaction against labor unions created a difficult backdrop for liberal programmatic advances. We find that this anti-labor reaction was especially virulent in the South but divided even Northern Democrats, thus creating an effective wedge issue for Republicans and their Southern conservative allies. More generally, we find that the mass public generally favored the specific programs created by the New Deal, but was hardly clamoring for major expansions of the national government’s role in the late 1930s and 1940s. These findings illuminate the role played by the South in constraining New Deal liberalism while also highlighting the tenuousness of the liberal majority in the North.

Keywords: New Deal, liberalism, labor unions, public opinion

Suggested Citation

Schickler, Eric and Caughey, Devin, Public Opinion, Organized Labor, and the Limits of New Deal Liberalism, 1936-1945 (August 30, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1668993 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1668993

Eric Schickler (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Devin Caughey

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Ave.
E53-470
Cambridge, MA 02139-4301
United States
6173244085 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.devincaughey.com

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