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This week in history: Dewey wins! Wait...

It’s been a rough couple of years for election pollsters, but ballot-counters in 1948 were eating crow on Nov. 3 after Vice President Harry Truman defied all odds and won the presidency.

Harry S. Truman reads the Chicago Sun-Times
In this 1956 photo, Harry S. Truman reads the Chicago Sun-Times featuring a story about his nomination at the 1956 Democratic Convention.
Chicago Sun-Times

As reported in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

At the top left corner of the Chicago Daily News’ Nov. 3, 1948 edition, a comic depicts a man eating a bowl of crow. The sign next to him reads “pollster,” and he looks anything but happy.

Today’s pollsters would find themselves in good company among those in 1948. The headline on the day’s paper read, “Truman wins; party sweeps,” an outcome almost no one predicted.

“Harry S. Truman, the man who couldn’t win, will be President of the United States for four more years,” Washington Bureau Chief Paul R. Leach wrote in his front-page story. “The voters of the nation have given him a Democratic Congress to work with — both houses.”

How did it happen?

“There wasn’t one isolated reason why the presidential race came to a hairbreath windup and the Illinois Democrats swept the big offices when all the signs pointed to the contrary,” another front-page report said.

In Illinois, organization played a major role in the Democratic sweep, reporter Charles B. Cleveland wrote.

“Mayor Kennelly came out actively for the Democratic ticket,” he wrote. “President Truman came into Chicago for a Fourth of July type ceremony and a fighting talk that wouldn’t the let the word defeat be mentioned.”

The enthusiasm caught fire, Cleveland said, and resulted in a resounding landslide that shocked the country — and managed to trip up a certain local competitor.