We Paid Attention and We Chose

This is hardly the main point Joe Klein makes in his latest Time column but I’ve gotten interested in this particular nugget of CW about political history:

It may be that Obama is not Reagan. It may be that he is more like Al Smith, whose Roman Catholicism was too much for a Protestant nation to handle in 1928.

You hear things like that all the time, but take a gander at the 1928 electoral map (Al Smith in blue, Herbert Hoover in red):

Smith was elected Governor of New York in 1918 lost in 1920, then won again in 1922 before securing re-election in 1924 and 1926. New Yorkers, at least, don’t seem to have been irredeemably opposed to voting for a Catholic. And yet in the 1928 Presidential election he lost his home state of New York. That’s not to deny that Smith’s religion cost him votes in some areas (notably, he lost several Southern states at a time when the South blindly backed Democrats out of allegiance to white supremacy) but there were clearly more fundamental problems with his campaign.


Indeed, by most standards Smith did substantially better than the undeniably Protestant John W. Davis managed in the 1924 election. I’m not especially familiar with the political history of the 1920s, but the Democratic Party seems to have been in pretty sorry state throughout the whole period in a way that doomed the 1928 nominee no matter what his religion.