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Economic Class and Popular Support for Franklin Roosevelt in War and Peace

Matthew A. Baum and Samuel Kernell
The Public Opinion Quarterly
Vol. 65, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 198-229
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3078802
Page Count: 32
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Economic Class and Popular Support for Franklin Roosevelt in War and Peace
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Abstract

History has judged FDR as one of America's greatest leaders in part because he maintained the public's confidence in seeing the nation through the travails of the Depression and World War II. During this era, the two most widely employed explanatory variables in contemporary presidential popularity scholarship-the economy and war-assumed their most extreme values of the twentieth century. Hence, not only is understanding Roosevelt's public support historically important, but it represents a valuable case for filling in our understanding of the opinion dynamics of presidential support more generally. Yet, surprisingly, Roosevelt's approval ratings have attracted little systematic scrutiny. Compiling time-series data from 1937 to 1943, partially disaggregated by economic class, we investigate FDR's popular support among different classes during both national crises. We find that Roosevelt's peacetime support divided along class lines, while during the war class divisions blurred. Roosevelt's support was indeed conditioned by external events, refracted through the interests of different societal groups. We conclude that public support for modern presidents should be similarly studied as the sum of opinions among heterogeneous constituencies.

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