The Big Vote: Gender, Consumer Culture, and the Politics of Exclusion, 1890s-1920s

By Bufalino, Jamie Mayhew | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Big Vote: Gender, Consumer Culture, and the Politics of Exclusion, 1890s-1920s


Bufalino, Jamie Mayhew, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


The Big Vote: Gender, Consumer Culture, and the Politics of Exclusion, 1890s-1920s Liette Gidlow. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

In The Big Vote: Gender, Consumer Culture, and the Politics of Exclusion, 1890s-1920s liette Gidlow contributes to several important scholarly debates regarding early twentieth-century American political culture. She places the question of women's impact on electoral politics postsuffrage within the context of larger issues of declining voter participation in the 1920s. She suggests that consumer culture served as a vehicle through which middle-class and elite political organizations excluded workers, ethnic and racial minorities, and sometimes women from voting by recasting political participation as an activity that required expert knowledge. She examines the demise of a nineteenth-century political culture which was based on party allegiance and in which workers and ethnic minorities (except African Americans in the South who were largely prevented from voting by Jim Crow) actively participated in an urban political culture in which party loyalty reflected regional, ethnic, and familial ties and contributed significantly to one's social identity.

Focused on the Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) campaigns conducted between 1924 and 1928 by the League of Women Voters, National Association of Manufacturers, National Civic Federation, American Legion, and Collier's Weekly, Gidlow suggests that, contrary to conventional interpretations of the campaigns which stressed their failure to increase voter participation, these efforts actually helped usher in a new form of electoral politics that downplayed party loyalty and mass participation and stressed independent decisionmaking based on political education, de facto endorsing a smaller and more elite electorate. Gidlow examines the strategies employed by GOTV advocates noting the extensive use of advertising designed to remind the "right sort of citizens" (middle-class and elite men and women) to vote. She argues that educational programs, which followed advertising campaigns, sought to make "problem voters" (hyphenated Americans and women) aware of the issues at stake in local, state and national elections by urging them to become well versed in contemporary politics before selecting a candidate or party to endorse.

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