The Myth of the Political Majority from Hitler to Obama

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The Myth of the Political Majority from Hitler to Obama 

Many leaders have been recorded as having a political Majority and on the 80th anniversary of Hitler being appointed Chancellor, January 1933, it is appropriate to ask, ‘How popular was the Nazi dictator in Germany?’

It has been commented on many occasions that the British/US media are obsessed with Hitler and the Nazis. Virtually on any day of the week, you can find a programme on television about them. By contrast, developments in contemporary Germany are rarely seen. We are shown period footage of vast crowds cheering Hitler but it is often forgotten that the image of Nazi Germany presented, is the one created by Dr Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and People’s Enlightenment. The millions who sat at home are not shown and many of those who did turn up knew they had to. We should not pretend Hitler had no mass support but the figures show that the majority of Germans did not vote for Hitler’s NSDAP at any free election.

In the last free election before Hitler was appointed German Chancellor by the ailing President Hindenburg, the Nazi vote was 26.7% of those on the electoral register or 33.1% of those, 80.6%, who actually voted. Interestingly, the result was a similar percentage that Hitler had attracted previously, when he stood against Hindenburg and other candidates for the Reich presidency 13 March 1932. Paul von Hindenburg’s vote was 49.6%, Adolf Hitler received 30.2%, and Ernst Thälmann (Communist) received 13.2%. An impressive 82.6% of the electorate had turned out to vote, which means Hindenburg received 42.76% of eligible voters. If we look at some other countries we see the Nazi vote, was not spectacular.

In the USA in the same year, 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) secured another ‘spectacular’ vote, but did not gain a majority of the American electorate. For whatever reason, only 52.6% voted, Roosevelt won 52.7% of those who voted, that is, 27.72% of those eligible to vote. With this result Roosevelt won by a landslide. By contrast, in the UK, at the height of the financial crisis, in the general election of 1931, 76.1% voted of whom, the ‘National’ mainly Conservative, government of Ramsey MacDonald attracted 67.2% of the votes or 51.14% of the total eligible votes, a far more convincing victory than Hitler’s.

More recently, in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected President of the USA turnout was 62.8%, the highest in modern times in the United States, of whom he won 49.7%. That represented 31.2% of those eligible to vote. Turnout was 57.1% in 2008, when Barack Obama won the presidency. His percentage was 59.93 of those who voted or 34.22% of those eligible - which is hardly overwhelming.

What about post-war West Germany? In 1957, 87.8% electorate voted in the German Parliamentary (Bundestag) elections. Konrad Adenauer’s, right of centre, CDU/CSU gained 50.2%, that is, 44.075% of eligible voters – a far more impressive result than Hitler achieved.

Finally, in Britain, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives were given a decisive parliamentary majority in 1983, but not a decisive popular vote. It was only 30.82% of the entire electorate. This represented 42.4% of those, 72.7%, who actually voted. Thatcher’s vote was in no small measure due to Britain’s military victory in the Falklands mini-war with Argentina in 1962. In all these elections big money was a key factor in putting the victor in office, especially in Hitler's case. Recalling these facts is in no way to call into doubt political democracy or to put these leaders in the same corner as Hitler. One must agree with Winston Churchill, when he told the House of Commons, 11 November, 1947, ‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time’.

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David Childs