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I read an answer here that said the prohibition was imposed on cities against their will.

A bit of research on Google seem to say that it was pushed through because people didn't realize even wine and beer would be banned. All in all it seems that many people were not very enthusiastic about Prohibition.

But are there objective measures of just how much people supported or didn't support Prohibition?

Were there any opinion polls and how accurate are they?

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    "The nastiest trick ever pulled on a returning victorious army, that Prohibition." – Pieter Geerkens Oct 24 '14 at 15:09
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    I don't have any opinion poll numbers, but US politics at the time was polarized into an urban immigrant segment and a rural segment that had been here longer. The rural population feared the impact of these legal immigrants and their popish lascivious immorality on the social fabric of the god fearing "native" Americans. If you run the numbers of rural and urban population, you'll have a pretty good picture of the support levels. Also remember that this was the first generation where "urban" was more populous than "rural". – Mark C. Wallace Nov 11 '14 at 14:51
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    From what I understand, under Prohibition, it was not illegal to drink alcohol, only to ship and sell it. The rural population could produce "moonshine" at home, and supported keeping "imported" alcohol out of the hands of the urbanites. – Tom Au Nov 11 '14 at 16:36
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    @TomAu AFAIK production of most kinds of alcoholic beverages was also illegal (though not all). But yes, the rural communities had a much easier time moonshining than your city dweller. – jwenting Nov 12 '14 at 7:40
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    The vast majority of the American public was in favour of drunks drinking less, meaning everyone other than those they knew themselves, but still wanted to drink freely themselves because they personally were responsible drinkers. As observed over the relevant 12 years or so, this was an entirely unenforceable proposition. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 12 '14 at 23:18
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Prohibition ended just before scientific polling took off in the U.S., so we don't have high-quality polls from the 1920s. What we do have are polls of magazine readers.*

The results from the Literary Digest Prohibition Polls are at this link. To summarize them:

  • In the 1920s, straight enforcement was not a majority opinion among respondents, but neither was repeal. Initially, 40% of respondents wanted to modify prohibition somehow, which seems consistent with OP's research that people did not entirely understand/approve of the details of prohibition.
  • Public opinion seems to have consistently moved toward "repeal" with time. By 1932, 74% of respondents indicated they were for repeal--and in fact, this percentage matches perfectly with the official vote on repeal in the 39 states that put prohibition up for a vote after the repeal of national prohibition.

The earliest scientific poll I could find on prohibition comes from Gallup in December 1936. In it, 67% of respondents answered "no" to the question, "If the question of national prohibition should come up again, would you vote to make the country dry?"


* Keep in mind that bias enters these numbers twice: magazine readership is not representative of the population, nor are those who respond to magazine polls representative of magazine readership. But in this case, they actually might have been fairly accurate (see the second bullet point).

Citation for Gallup Poll: USGALLUP.DC2036.R01; sample size around 1,500. I can't provide a direct link because I found it at the Roper Center's Public Opinion Archives, which is a password-protected database.

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    One has to be very careful with Literary Digest polls - historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5168 – Felix Goldberg Feb 23 '15 at 13:39
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    The Literary Digest also took a (telephone) poll in 1936 that showed Republican Alf Landon as a heavy favorite over Democrat FDR (most telephone users in those days were Republicans). – Tom Au Feb 26 '15 at 2:07
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According to "Generations" by William Strauss and Neil Howe, Prohibition was pushed through in the U.S. by an unlikely "out" coalition of social reformers, agrarian interests, and women. (The 18th and 19th Amendments came close together.) They formed a "majority," but it was as "non-mainstream" a majority as one can get. Prohibition barely passed.

Prior to Prohibition, American women drank a lot less than American men, which is why Prohibition was seen (and sold) as "protecting women." But it led to furtive drinking in "speakeasies" (rather than saloons), by "mixed" company. (Women originally went to speakeasies as "chaperones" so if a man was with a woman, the presumption was that he wasn't drinking, even though he was.) Prohibition was repealed when women got accustomed to drinking, undermining its core constituency.

  • All of my relatives that lived through this period as adults, all of whom were rural Michigan, hated prohibition, and ignored it when possible. My great uncle made legal beer at home in his bathtub - he could share it with friends, but could not sell it. A friend near Monroe - on Lake Erie - was a French Canadian, and imported Canadian whiskey over the frozen lake in the winter, and in his commercial fishing boat in the summer. He said it paid for his nice house! I'll omit my grandmother's rather un-ladylike comments. – Peter Diehr Jun 13 '16 at 15:21
  • Upvoting this because the part about the coalition is both correct, and an important point. However, it is quite debatable if there was ever a majority of the country in support of it. The "drys" were the first to use pressure groups and selective election targeting to amplify their position. – T.E.D. Jul 2 '16 at 16:23
  • @T.E.D.: That's why I put "majority" in scare quotes and talked about a "nonmainstream majority," and "barely" passing. It's like saying Hitler had a "bare majority" of the Reichstag in 1933: (44% for his Nazis, 8% for his Nationalist partners.) Thanks for your support. – Tom Au Jul 2 '16 at 18:05
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My older relatives who lived through this era (most dead now,) were generally opposed to prohibition. They were very rural and lived in Idaho. My grandmother told me that her brothers and several other locals were involved in moonshining.

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