Popular Science Monthly/Volume 85/October 1914/The Political Mind of Foreign-Born Americans




AN election psychological experiment on a large scale. The trouble with most elections, however, as psychological tests, is that the questions submitted are vague, complex and variously understood. If one could put a simple and unequivocal question such as "Are you in favor of capital punishment?" or, "Do you prefer cooperative to family housekeeping?" the answers might be of great informative value as to the mind of the population. If such questions could be submitted, it would then be interesting in analyzing the returns to look for the influence of economic, social and racial factors.

The City of New York, as it happens, is an excellent laboratory for studying the responses of several foreign nationalities. There are, according to the Thirteenth Federal Census, 340,765 Italians in New York who were born in Italy, 484,189 foreign-born Russians, 278,114 foreign-born Germans, 252,662 Irish, born in Ireland. These nationalities are not evenly distributed over the area of the city. Here and there exist communities as large as good-sized cities composed almost entirely of people of one nationality, and these communities constitute distinct political units, to the extent that a ward or an assembly district is a distinct political unit. Thus there were in the eighth assembly district in 1910, 51,438 foreign-born Russians; 83.8 per cent, of the males of voting age were foreign-born and naturalized; only 2.5 per cent, were native born, of native parents. In the third assembly district there were 33,531 foreign-born Italians; in the sixteenth there were 9,144 Irish from Ireland; in the third district of Queens County there were 15,548 Germans born in Germany. We are thus enabled to pick out districts in which one or other nationality largely predominates and from the election returns can determine how the district voted upon every candidate or proposition submitted.

Candidates are but rarely propositions. Only when they are does an election take on the character of an experiment in social psychology. Now, the election of November, 1913, was one of the rare sort. The issues were clear, simple, unequivocal, understood very generally in the same sense. The propositions for which the candidates stood might have been formulated as follows: (1) Are you in favor of government by an organization such as Tammany? (2) Are you in favor of Socialism? (3) Do you read the Hearst newspapers regularly? These questions have not in recent years been put so clearly—not in 1910 when the campaign for the governorship was complicated by the intervention of Roosevelt in favor of Stimson, not in 1911 when only minor officials were elected, not in 1912 when the personal element again was paramount.

In view of the prevalent solicitude concerning the effect of racial conglomeration upon American national life, it is of great practical importance to ascertain as definitely as possible what the behavior of different races constituting the American population is in response to specific appeals. Does nationality play any part in determining the point of view of our foreign communities in political matters? Will American problems be dealt with in the same way by one of the foreign districts as by a community of native Americans born of native parents?

From the Thirteenth Census, which gives the number of specified nationalities in each assembly district, and also the number of naturalized voters, one can deduce approximately the percentage of voters belonging to each nationality in every district.

We shall first consider the answers of the chief constituent nationalities of New York to the question: "Are you in favor of government by political organizations of the Tammany kind?"

We present to begin with a table giving the ten districts in which the voters of native parentage were found in the greatest numbers. The first column gives the borough and district, the second, the per cent. of all the voters constituted by the Americans of native parentage, the third, the per cent. of the whole vote in each district given to the Tammany candidate for mayor. In the fourth, the vote for Dix, Tammany candidate in 1910, is added:

Assembly District Native of Native parents 1913, McCall 1910, Dix
M 15 45.3 33.7 58.1
M 19 40.0 33.2 58.1
M 25 44.1 35.3 48.4
M 27 51.5 37.6 55.8
Q 4 41.3 31.1 46.2
B 17 45.6 24.7 43.6
B 11 38.0 34.9 50.5
B 18 39.0 28.3 46.3
B 5 38.1 25.3 44.1
B 10 38.6 36.6 53.3

These districts of mainly American voters answered "nay" to Tammany, throwing in every case over sixty per cent. of their votes against it. In 1910 Dix received a little over 50 per cent. in half of these districts, but as has been said, Tammany was not then the sole issue.

There is no difficulty in finding a dozen districts in which the Russians alone far exceed every other nationality in number. As is well known, the Russians are nearly all Jews, and so are the Austrians who in large numbers inhabit some of these districts. The next table is similar to the first except that Russians and Austrians are substituted for native Americans.

Assembly District Russians Austrians Both 1913, McCall 1910, Dix
M  8 54.4 14.2 68.6 40.2 52.3
M  6 30.4 30.8 61.2 22.8 40.  
M  4 35.6 25.2 60.2 51.1 61.7
M 26 34.6 6.7 41.3 30.0 41.0
M  2 35.6 6.7 41.3 30.0 41.0
M 10 22.3 12.5 36.8 29.3 52.2
M 24 20.6 3.9 23.9 49.7 56.8
M 31 12.9 4.9 17.8 24.1 44.7
B 21 31.2 5.9 37.1 27.1 48.6
B 23 33.3 3.9 37.2 25.7 40.9
B 14 16.1 5.9 22.0 46.6 38.5
B 22 13.0 3.0 16.0 24.3 38.5

In only two of these districts did McCall receive more than 50 per cent. In two thirds of the districts he received much less than the average for the entire city which was 38 per cent. The Russians, too, emphatically said "nay" to Tammany in 1913.

Let us now put the same question to the Italians. There are four assembly districts in which the Italians far outnumber every other nationality; there are two others in which they exist in great numbers, although by the side of one or other nationality that rivals or exceeds them numerically. The following table gives the figures as in the preceding tables:

Assembly District Italians 1913, McCall 1910, Dix
M  3 30.3 67.6 77.7
M  1 25.2 59.6 67.8
M 28 26.8 42.6 55.8
B  3 23.2 63.7 73.1
B  2 13.4 60.0 67.7
M  2 18.5 57.6 67.4

In three of these districts the Tammany candidate received over 60 per cent, of the votes; in two over 50 per cent, and in one over 40 per cent. It is evident that the Italian districts said "yea" to Tammany as emphatically as the districts of the Russians and native Americans said "nay."

Statistics are hardly necessary to teach the student of politics how Irishmen are inclined to answer the question we have been considering. Our figures support the view that they are for the Tammany organization. We take for study the five districts in which the foreign-born Irish are most numerous. It should be remembered, however, that our figures underestimate the voting strength of the Irish in these districts; first, because the percentage of naturalization of the Irish is much greater than that of Italians or Russians on account of their being older immigrants and also more at home in the peculiar political milieu of New York; second, the native Irish of foreign parents usually outnumber the foreign born, whereas the opposite is true of the relation between native-born and foreign-born Russians and Italians. Besides, the Irish are widely scattered and massed in only a few districts. However, these are the districts we have, at present, in view, as giving a strong clue to what occurs less perceptibly where the concentration is less dense. The table follows:

Assembly District Irish 1913, McCall 1910, Dix
M 13 16.4 61.0 58.1
M 16 14.0 51.7 61.4
M 11 12.2 55.6 60.5
M 14 12.4 54.7 61.2
M 5 11.2 64.4 67.6

We have only five districts in which the naturalized Irishmen constitute clearly over 10 per cent, of the voting population. In every one the Tammany candidate received over 50 per cent, of the district's vote. Although not an exact measure of the strength of the Irish predilection for the organization, it is a clear indication of the tendency sufficiently demonstrated in other ways.

The Germans, like the Irish, are more diffused than the Russians and Italians. We find them constituting more than 10 per cent, of the voters in six districts. In two of these they far outnumber every other nationality—the third of Queens and second of Manhattan. In these they formed considerably more than twenty-one per cent, of the voters.

Assembly District Germans 1913, McCall 1910, Dix
Q 3 21.4 31.1 49.8
B 20 20.2 26.8 41.8
B 19 13.6 31.9 48.3
B 33 11.2 34.6 49.4
Q 1 11.1 41.4 55.2
M 22 21.2 38.4 50.5

Every one of these districts decisively rejected Tammany.

Summarizing the answers given to the first question put to the voters, which was "Are you for or against Tammany" we are able to say that a decided "no" was given by native Americans of native parents and by the Russians and Germans; a decided "yes" was given by the Italians and Irish.

Two other questions came sharply to the fore in 1913. One was radicalism in the form of socialism; the other was Hearstian radicalism. How do the foreigners stand towards these movements? There is a widespread though vague impression that socialism is a phenomenon of foreign growth. We can be more specific.

The city at large gave the socialist candidate for mayor in 1913 five per cent, of the total vote. Let us take those districts in which he received over ten per cent. There are just ten such districts. Let us also put down the approximate percentage of the voters in these districts belonging to the principal nationalities. The following table gives these figures with the percentage of the vote given to the socialist candidate for mayor in 1913 and for governor in 1910:

Socialist Vote Native of
Austr. Ger. Irish Italian Russian
1910 1913
B 21 12.4 16.1 12.6 5.9 4.1 0   9.1 31.2
B 23 12.5 15.8 19.8 3.9 2.2 1.6 4.6 33.3
B 19 11.0 12.8 12.6 .8 13.6 0   9.9 11.9
M 4 12.6 11.9 7.0 25.2 .4 1.1 2.5 35.6
M 26 10.2 11.8 7.1 6.7 4.6 3.8 1.4 34.6
M 8 14.6 11.7 2.5 14.2 .7 0   4.1 54.4
M 22 13.1 11.7 10.6 4.6 21.2 5.3 1.6 3.6
M 6 10.0 11.2 2.4 30.8 1.1 .7 .7 30.4
M 24 10.4 11.2 11.1 3.9 4.3 6.2 11.1 20.6
M 10 11.1 10.8 5.9 12.5 4.7 0   13.9 22.3

It will be seen from the table, first, that the percentage of native born of native parents is less in every district than that of some foreign nationality; second, that in every district but two the percentage of Russians far exceeds that of any other nationality; third, that in those two exceptional districts it is the Germans that predominate. The Austrians should be added to the Russians, because, as said before, both Russians and Austrians in these districts are practically all Jews. Our conclusion therefore, is that the bulk of the socialist vote is derived from the foreign Jewish element, and to a much less degree from the Germans. This position is supported from the other end. The districts in which the socialists received the fewest votes, from 1 to 2 per cent., are those in which the natives, the Irish and the Italians are strongest—the first, third, fifth, seventh, ninth, thirteenth, fifteenth, twenty-fifth and twenty-seventh of Manhattan; and such districts as the second and third of Brooklyn.

The other branch of the question on radicalism resolves itself into this, "What voters are susceptible to influence from the Hearst newspapers?" One of the principal candidates in 1913 was bitterly opposed by these papers and a candidate of their own was nominated by the Independence League. Do the replies run to any extent along lines of national cleavage?

A study of the figures seems to justify the following observations: The districts in which the voters of native parentage are comparatively few—less than one third of all the voters—are those in which the Hearstians are strongest. On the other hand, they are not strongest where the foreign-born voters are most numerous. Their hold is upon the native-born of foreign parentage. If we take the districts giving the Hearst candidates the largest percentage—say over eight per cent.—we find the foreign-born Germans and Irish far outnumbered by the natives of German and Irish parentage. If we take those giving the lowest percentages—say, less than four per cent.—we find the foreign born of all nationalities greatly outnumbering the native. Along with these facts we find that several of those districts among the half dozen giving the highest socialist vote are also among the half dozen giving the lowest Hearstian vote, showing that socialism and Hearstism are but weakly correlated.

The half dozen districts highest for Hearstism, and half dozen lowest, with the percentage vote given both in 1913 and 1910 (when the league ran a candidate for governor) are given below.

Highest for Hearst Candidate

Assembly District 1913 1910
B 9 10.1 9.0
B 22 9.8 9.6
Bx 33 9.5 11.1
Bx 34 9.3 9.1
B 20 9.3 9.5
B 16 9.2 6.4

Lowest for Hearst Candidates

Assembly District 1913 1910
M 6 5 3.6
M 4 1.2 3.0
M 8 1.6 3.2
M 3 2.9 3.4
M 2 3.0 3.4
M 27 3.2 2.9

Hearstism we conclude is a mode of thought that is attractive chiefly to members of the transition species between the immigrant and the American of native parents.

Finally, how do our naturalized citizens stand towards that latest phase of reform represented by the Progressive party? The answer to this question is made difficult by complicating circumstances. In 1912 the personal issue played an over-shadowing part; in 1913 interest was centered at other points, the aims of the Progressive party for the time being coinciding with those of other political elements. One or two facts in the election of 1912, however, are extremely suggestive even though they do not cover the whole ground. In that election Roosevelt ran ahead of Wilson in only four districts in the city. One was the twenty-third of Manhattan, in which Taft also ran ahead of Wilson—a strong Republican district. The other three were the sixth, the eighth and the twenty-sixth, the three districts in which the Russians and Austrians constitute the great majority of the electorate.

It appears, therefore, from the experiment in social psychology conducted by the state in November, 1913, that, firstly, feudal politics as exemplified by Tammany is disapproved by native Americans (native born of native parents), by Russians and by Germans; it is favored by Irish and Italians; secondly, socialism is not a general foreign phenomenon, being preferred chiefly by Russians and, to a less extent, by Germans, getting no support from the Irish and but little from the Italians; thirdly, Hearstism is a transition phenomenon manifested by a considerable number of foreigners in process of becoming Americanized.