November 2, 1948: It’s Too Soon to Know

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(Pictured: ABC News covers the 1948 election on radio and local TV.)

(This seemed like a good idea when I started it. Maybe it’s too far back in time to be of interest. You’ll have to tell me.)

November 2, 1948, is a Tuesday. It is Election Day. Although his Gallup poll margin has fallen from 17 points ahead in September to five ahead last week, Republican Thomas E. Dewey, currently the governor of New York, is expected to defeat incumbent Harry Truman for the presidency today. (Elmo Roper, the other major American pollster, stopped polling the race in September, claiming that Dewey’s election was inevitable.) Dewey has the endorsement of over 500 newspapers reprsenting 70 percent of the country; columnist Walter Winchell reports that gamblers are offering 15-to-1 odds against Truman. Having held the lead all summer, Dewey has campaigned cautiously, avoiding controversial issues and rarely even mentioning his opponent’s name. Truman, meanwhile, has attacked the current Republican Congress with a highly partisan, people-vs.-the-powerful message.

Tonight, election returns are broadcast on television for the first time, but audiences are expected to be very small. Like Truman (who will escape his election-night party in Kansas City to follow the returns from a resort in Excelsior Springs, Missouri), most voters follow the returns on radio. CBS coverage features Edward R. Murrow, Lowell Thomas, Eric Sevareid, and others. NBC’s coverage is led by H. V. Kaltenborn and Robert Trout, both former CBS commentators. At midnight, Kaltenborn sees a swing in Dewey’s favor and confidently predicts that while Truman has been ahead all night, late returns will put Dewey over the top.

In the new Associated Press college football poll released yesterday, Notre Dame has taken over the #1 ranking from Michigan, which falls to #2, even though the Wolverines have more first-place votes. Notre Dame blew out winless Navy 41-7 in Baltimore on Saturday while Michigan was squeaking past Illinois at home 28-20. The Basketball Association of America opened its third season last night. The Indianapolis Jets beat the St. Louis Bombers 84-80. No games are scheduled tonight. The New York Knicks will play the Fort Wayne Pistons and the Philadelphia Warriors will meet the Washington Capitols tomorrow night. The defending champion Minneapolis Lakers, Boston Celtics, Providence Steamrollers, Chicago Stags, and Rochester Royals will open later in the week. The National Hockey League is on a week-long break; the league’s second-ever All-Star Game is tomorrow night in Chicago, pitting the league all-stars against the defending champion Toronto Maple Leafs.

This week’s Cash Box Disc Hits Box Score ranks songs by title and lists the versions available by different performers. Several songs are popular in only one version, however, including this week’s #1 song, “A Tree in the Meadow” by Margaret Whiting. Last week’s #1, “It’s Magic,” can be found in versions by Doris Day, Dick Haymes, Tony Martin, and Gordon MacRae. “Twelfth Street Rag” is #3, recorded by Pee Wee Hunt. “Buttons and Bows,” with popular versions by Dinah Shore and the Dinning Sisters, is #4. Other top songs of the week include “My Happiness,” with versions by Ella Fitzgerald, the Pied Pipers, and Jon and Sandra Steele; “Cool Water” by Vaughn Monroe with the Sons of the Pioneers; “Ramblin’ Rose” by Perry Como and the Satisfiers; and “On a Slow Boat to China” by the Kay Kyser Orchestra. “It’s Too Soon to Know” by the Orioles, currently climbing the R&B charts, is at #20. At #23, comedy bandleader Red Ingle has found a way around the current musicians’ union strike against record labels with a country parody of Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” that was recorded with non-union musicians playing mostly toy instruments and creating sound effects. “Serutan Yob (A Song for Backward Boys and Girls Under 40)” is credited to the Unnatural Seven. “Serutan Yob” is “Nature Boy” spelled backwards, but Serutan is also a popular brand of laxative widely advertised on network radio to younger people, which accounts for the “under 40” reference in the title.

Perspective From the Present: By 4AM Wednesday morning, Truman was certain he would win; Dewey held out until several large states went for Truman at mid-morning, and he finally conceded by telegram around 11AM. Many newspapers and magazines had prepared Dewey-wins articles in advance, and some published them. The most famous, of course, was the Chicago Tribune, which bannered “Dewey Defeats Truman” on its November 3 front page. Truman won 303 electoral votes to 189 for Dewey and seven for States Rights Democrat Strom Thurmond. His margin in the popular vote was a little over two million.

Seventy-two years and 18 presidential elections later, the Orioles describe our current situation very well. I made my election prediction in today’s Sidepiece. To subscribe, go here

7 thoughts on “November 2, 1948: It’s Too Soon to Know

  1. Solid piece as always.
    I’m not getting the Sidepiece, and when I do go to sign up, it tells me the link has expired. I suspect it’s a conspiracy.

      1. Wesley

        No problem getting the Sidepiece as an email for me. Great job as usual on it. but oh God, the “Wississippi” connection with Joseph McCarthy, the John Birch Society and the COVID-19 outbreak epicenter is giving me nightmares even before I go to bed.

      2. Tim M

        Sidepiece arrives and reads just like an email should. As a native of the Fox Cities, I can tell you that Republican roots run very, very deep. It’s ingrained. It has nothing to do with the candidate or the platform. If your dad drove a Ford, you’re likely to drive a Ford. Voting Republican in the Fox Valley is like a genetic thing. It’s inherited. In the village where I grew up, just west of Appleton, there were – as far as I know – two families that voted for Democratic candidates. Countless times I heard parental discussions with other adults that, when a certain name came up, they’d say, “yah, he’s a Democrat.” Not really as a pejorative, but more as a descriptor of something unusual.

  2. Wesley

    By the way, watching Harry Truman mock H.V. Kaltenborn’s distinctive speech style after the re-election has always amused me. Remember when we had presidents who we could laugh with instead of at? Maybe that’ll change soon …

  3. mikehagerty

    Getting and thoroughly enjoying Sidepiece.

    I think Carville’s remark about Pennsylvania (It’s Philly and Pittsburgh and the rest is Alabama) applies to most states. SNL did a skit a few months ago about a business “in the part of New York State with all the Confederate flags.”

    The biggest shock to me in seven years back in my home state of California is just how reactionary and racist it gets once you get out of major population centers. Hell, I’m in a fairly genteel suburb 20 miles from Sacramento and there’s at least one yahoo in a pickup truck flying a giant “Trump 2020” flag with the tagline “FUCK YOUR FEELINGS” from its bed.

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