Statistical Prognosticator Gives Truman Chance

How to Predict Elections, by Louis H. Bean, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1948.

For months now this country's political realists have loudly announced that Harry Truman could never be elected President of the U.S.A. in 1948, and the denials of the White House coterie have indeed seemed the cries of a dying Democratic leadership. Yet shortly before the campaigns began, Louis H. Bean, economic advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture, wrote a small book which quietly predicted that a Democratic victory in 1948 was not at all improbable. Its empirical conclusions do not deserve oblivion in the creseen do of excited oratory, for Louis Bean has not as yet been wrong by more than 1 per cent in 12 years of predicting elections.

After analyzing election returns of the last 100 years, Bean concludes that 1946 was the statistical rock-bottom vote for the Democratic Party, below which the Democrats will not sink. In fact he adds that 1948 is actually the beginning of a new ebb tide for the G.O.P. and the start of another Democratic era. For support he points to the Congressional by-elections, the mayoralty races, and polls of 1947, all of which swung toward the Democrats and seemed to contradict the long-standing prediction of A. M. Schlesinger, Sr. that the U.S. is in for a Conservative era.

On the Department of Agriculture staff for the last 25 years, Bean has long been known as a statistical wizard in Washington. When Henry Wallace headed the Department, Bean was one of the inner braintrust, but unlike C. B. Baldwin and some of the other Department strategists, he has not followed Wallace to the new hunting grounds. In his Washington office he is still sorting election returns as a hobby, which in 1940 resulted in the publication of a book called "Ballot Behavior" now a text for the technical politician. His newest book, as he says, is nothing more than application of the statistical techniques developed then, though it is written for more mass circulation.

Although he bases his work on statistics, Bean does not lose his grip on the realities of U.S. politics. He admits that a Democratic victory could be averted if a Third Party took four to eight percent of the popular vote away from the Democrats without cutting the G.O.P. vote, or if a depression set in strongly by Nov. 2. He hints at the possibility of a Republican victory with something less than a majority of the popular vote--an alternative as yet unvoiced in the press. But with the other hand he holds out the key to a possible Democratic win.

Ring doorbells and get out the vote is his advice to the Democrats, 59 million votes, he says, is about what the vote goal should be if potentialities are seen in historical perspective. More voters means more voters from the lower income groups which means more votes for the Democratic Party. That logic seems to be an axiom in Democratic Party circles nowadays, although it has been statistically checked only in Santa Cruz County in California by a couple of Stanford professors.


Recent developments, of course, seem to hurt Bean's predictions and justify pro-Republican predictions. The manipulations in Dixie suggest a possible realignment in the parties and thus invalidation of Bean's historical statistics. Henry Wallace threatens to make heavy inroads in the minority districts of the pivotal states, and the Presidents ability as a candidate is still a question-mark. But on the Communist issue Bean suggests that the Third Party will draw most of the anti-Red fire. Catholics who did not support the Democratic Party in 1946, because of its supposed Communist affiliations, will in 1948 swing back into line, says Bean.

All of Washington and most of the labor politicians seem to have read the book and out West on the Truman express, the Presidential advisors seem to be following their Bean, stir up a commotion, get out the vote, and pray Henry Wallace is an overrated vote-better.