OLYMPIA, Wash., 9:45 p.m. — While constant polling may drive newspaper circulation, for Yale historian and professor emeritus Gaddis Smith, the horse race is, well, a complete bore.
My calling him over winter break to comment on the paper’s recent presidential poll therefore only added to his unwanted numerical inundation that is increasing on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.
Still, Smith could not help but note Yale’s dramatic political transformation over the past century.
“Undergraduates at Yale were solid Republicans in polls until after World War II,” he said.
Today, the News’ poll reports, only 11 percent of Yale College students who responded identify themselves as Republicans – one-fifth the number of self-identified Democrats.
To make his point, Smith recalled the landslide 1936 election in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated the rarely remembered Alf Landon.
“He won a sweeping victory, winning everywhere except Maine and Vermont,” Smith said. “And Yale.”
It took Jack Kennedy — and social diversification of the student body — for Yalies to swing strongly in a new political direction, Smith explained — one from which they haven’t looked back.
Even the conservatives have changed, Smith noted, taking on a more libertarian bent.
While the News poll found that Ron Paul is the Republican candidate most supported on campus, Smith said that in the pre-World War II days, conservatives would not have backed a candidate advocating the withdrawal of American troops abroad.
Still, not everything changes.
“The primary system was an attempt to reform the bad, old, corrupt, smoke-filled rooms at the conventions,” he said.
It’s “a shame,” he said, but the new system hasn’t lived up to its promise.
Hanging up the phone, I can’t help but wonder whether the 42.3 percent of Yalies polled who have not yet settled on a candidate are thinking the same.
Then again, do they really need to choose yet? After all, a few primaries and caucuses hundreds of miles away will take care of that.