Public Opinion in a Democracy  A Study in American Politics

5 Apr

An American political campaign, particularly a Presidential campaign, is in many respects irrational and confusing, but there is about it a peculiar attraction for those who have caught the lure of the game of politics.  Two opposing sides marshal their forces, and with oratory, editorializing, pamphleteering, and much general commotion engage in a battle for the verdict of the public that will place one or the other in control of the government.

Which side will win depends mainly on four factors: the candidates, the issues, the tactics pursued, and the conditions of the country.

James Bryce had a chapter in The American Commonwealth entitled “Why Great Men Are Not Chosen Presidents,” in which he suggested that great leaders practically never reach the Presidency because the proportion of first-rate men in American politics is relatively rare, the American political system gives fewer opportunities for personal distinction than the parliamentary systems of Europe, and great leaders make more enemies than obscure men, and are therefore less desirable as candidates.

This is not a condition peculiar to the United States.  Mediocre prime ministers are not a rarity in England or in France, but there are certain features characteristic of American politics and the process by which we choose our candidates that are not always calculated to draw the greatest men into the Presidency.

Charles W. Smith, Jr., Ph. D.,  Public Opinion in a Democracy  A Study in American Politics (Prentice Hall., Inc New York (c) 1942  p 139-140)

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