Famous Last Words: The Greatest Data-Driven Election
In 1945, Sen. Harry S. Truman was a product of the Kansas City Democratic machine of notorious Boss Tom Pendergast. He had been the obscure Vice President of the United States for 82 days. Suddenly, Franklin D. Roosevelt died and this plainspoken little man from Missouri stumbled into the presidency. Truman presided over tumultuous times — civil rights, Russian expansionism, the Berlin Airlift and China going communist. He was vilified, sneered at and ridiculed by the media, the Washington elite and an obstreperous Republican Congress.
In 1948, Truman was nominated for re-election and his candidacy was considered dead on arrival by every big city newspaper, pundits and pollsters, alike. New York Republican Governor Thomas E. Dewey was considered a shoo-in.
In the third week of September, Dewey led Truman by double digits in the polls. At that point, Elmo Roper stopped polling, because he believed Dewey’s win was a foregone conclusion.
Truman traveled 31,000 miles by train across the country and made 352 speeches. Often starting a 6 a.m. in his pajamas and bathrobe, he would speak to 22 people from the rear of the train and go on to make 16 more speeches — often until midnight. He spoke to 80,000 at the National Plowing Match in Dexter, Iowa, and 125,000 on Labor Day in Detroit. Millions of Americans saw and heard the President in person during the tour.
The campaign had a private research division of seven brilliant guys back in Washington. They set up the schedule of stops and then sent a 12-point questionnaire to Democratic officials in the hinterlands. The replies were assembled and flown out to the nearest airport several times a week.