1914: “Shall the army and navy be increased?”
As World War I entered its fourth month of horrendous fighting, the U.S. Congress began to look at the state of its own military. While politicians discussed the issue in Washington, the Kalamazoo Gazette put forth editorials questioning whether or not the government should increase the size of the army and navy. With prominent Americans putting their opinions into print, the Gazette asked the people of Kalamazoo and southwest Michigan to add their voices. By mid-November letters in “The People’s Column” reflected both sides of the issue. This encouraged the Gazette to organize a national straw vote in conjunction with 84 other newspapers with a ballot that asked, “Shall the army and navy be increased?”
Information and the Ballot
On 24 November, in Kalamazoo and other cities with newspapers participating in the vote, the following notice and ballot appeared;
The Gazette did not state how the other newspapers became involved with the voting, nor did it state that they were to follow any specific guidelines. In the cities that did print the ballot in their newspapers, the Gazette hoped for a tremendous response. No matter what the outcome, the results were to go to Washington to help sway politicians to support public opinion.
Women and Men Differ in Their Votes
Each day the notice and/or ballot appeared in the Gazette there was also an article that updated the vote in Kalamazoo and in other cities. Early voting supported an increase in both the army and the navy. However, the votes changed quickly. Kalamazoo voting went 2 to 1 against an increase in the army and navy. Women were especially strong voters. Their ballots were almost unanimously against any increase. Letters from mothers printed in “The People’s Column” told of their dislike of raising sons to go to war. Men did not vote in as big a number, but 75% of those who voted favored increases in both the army and navy. Soldiers from the Civil War and Spanish-American War stated the importance of a strong military and favored the increase of both branches. Businessmen also supported increases in the military for economic reasons. Although support was out there, it was the NOES that took and held the lead.
Kalamazoo and the Country
Voting in Kalamazoo was representative of that in the central and western states. The NO votes were greater in number. Those who voted in favor of the increases though stated that they should only occur for the defense of the country. Some people did split their vote. In those cases they supported an increase in the navy, but strictly to defend the coast from attack. In the eastern states, the votes favored increases for both fighting forces. Grand Rapids was the only city in Michigan to vote along that line.
Families, Clubs, and Bible Classes Vote
All the papers involved reported tremendous interest among their readers to vote on this issue. The Gazette printed vote numbers from communities in other cities and showed that Kalamazoo was no different. Envelopes arrived daily filled with multiple ballots. Whole families, neighborhoods and Bible classes discussed the subject, voted and sent in the results. Although the public’s interest in the war in Europe helped to increase circulation, this ballot helped with another increase; sales in late November averaged 16,556, but during the peak of voting reached as high as 17,278. This may have encouraged the Gazette to write an article on 29 November thanking those who had voted, but also told them it was their civic duty to take the initiative and make sure their friends and fellow club members participated. With such an increase in readership, the Gazette probably hoped for a ballot from each person who purchased a Gazette. Not only in the cities, but in the small towns as well, the voting was strong; Oshtemo received recognition for sending in 20 ballots and South Haven for a set of 30 ballots each in one envelope. If ballots were not available, the Gazette and other papers involved accepted votes from people on sheets of paper with their name, address and age. This helped to increase participation and the number of votes. Since the Gazette printed a ballot each day, it did ask people that after using one ballot, to pass the following days’ ballots onto a friend. Voting was on the honor system.
Voting Ended 5 December
With the announcement that 5 December at 8 pm the voting was to close, all papers commented on the final surge of ballots. To keep the ballots coming, the Gazette printed Kalamazoo’s votes for the 3rd and 4th:
3rd December 1914
4th December 1914
The morning of the 5th reported that the 4 December brought in the largest number of ballots. On 6 December the Gazette printed the final totals for Kalamazoo’s vote on the military increases:
- “N” PLURALITY*: 2,356
(* the number of NO votes for the army, but voted YES for the navy)
After counting the ballots, the Gazette and all other papers sent their tallies to the headquarters set up in Chicago. There a committee recorded the final totals from all involved with the “straw vote.”
Results from Twenty Cities
The front page of the Gazette on 11 December printed a chart showing the results from twenty cities that participated in the vote. Altogether 144,446 people voted on the issue. Compiled from cities of various sizes and locations in the country, the Gazette described their effort as the “largest and most thoroughly national “straw vote” ever taken.” Although called a “referendum” the Gazette considered the term inaccurate. Not all of the papers involved printed the ballot daily, some papers advised their readers how to vote, and only the twenty viewed on the chart worked toward achieving a big vote. Sent to both the House and Senate in Washington, the Gazette encouraged its readers to follow the political discussions and vote on the issue of “Shall the army and navy be increased?”