Who Voted for Hitler?

The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Who Voted for Hitler?


THE SOURCE: "Ordinary Economic Voting Behavior in the Extraordinary Election of Adolf Hitler" by Gary King, Ori Rosen, Martin Tanner, and Alexander F. Wagner, in The Journal of Economic History, Dec. 2008.

NO QUESTION OF VOTING BEhavior has been studied more extensively than how the Germans managed to elect a party that destroyed democracy in their country and left Europe ravaged. The conclusion has generally been that the Nazi victory was a "unique historical case." Now an international team of interdisciplinary researchers has compared voting results in six German elections between 1924 and 1933 with what is known about economic voting behavior in other countries. They find nothing unique about the Nazis' rise to power. Germans, like many other nationalities at many other times, voted according to what they perceived as their economic self-interest.

Harvard political scientist Gary King, University of Texas, El Paso mathematician Ori Rosen, Northwestern University statistician Martin Tanner, and University of Zurich finance professor Alexander E Wagner say that most previous analyses of German electoral results of the early 1930s were flawed. The "catch-all" theory--which describes the National Socialist Party as a protest organization that attracted people dissatisfied with other non-mainstream alternatives--doesn't say anything useful about the Nazi election since it "applies to most groups and almost all big or growing parties in almost all countries."

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"Mass society" theory, which holds that citizens--primarily nonvoters--on the "social periphery" feel the strongest response to extremist parties, has rarely been tested against hard voting data, the authors say. "Class theory," which suggests that various social groups were radicalized in different ways, has foundered because researchers disagreed on who precisely was radicalized to vote for the Nazis. Sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset wrote that the typical Nazi voter was a middle-class self-employed Protestant who lived on a farm or in a small community. …

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