Al Smith Did Not Lose the 1928 Presidential Election Because He Was Catholic
It is commonly held that New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, the first Roman Catholic presidential nominee of a major political party, lost the 1928 election because he was a Catholic. This is not true.
Smith narrowly failed to carry his home state of New York, which had elected him Governor four times previously. Therefore, it can not be said that he lost New York because he was a Catholic. He had won the state many times before.
While Smith was losing New York, he was carrying the solid Democratic south, states like: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. In 1928, very few Catholics lived in the south and anti-catholic sentiment was still commonplace and strong there well after World War II.
The truth is that peace and prosperity are the two winning issues in politics. President Herbert Hoover's first term was one in which the country remained at peace and when the economy was booming. Voters do not turn out of office incumbents who can run on a record of peace and prosperity.
In the 1960 presidential campaign, Senator John F. Kennedy skillfully used the Catholic issue. Only a vote for Kennedy was a vote against the anti-Catholic bias that allegedly defeated Al Smith.
Of course, if Kennedy already knew through his polling that the anti-Catholic bias was minimal, then creating the straw issue of anti-Catholic bias was an intellectually dishonest thing for this Pulitzer Prize winning history writer to do.
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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf