Public opinion polling was in its infancy in the 1930s. A trove of Gallup survey data from 1936-37 has been made available by the Roper Center and analyzed by the Pew Center. The time frame is interesting because we’re talking the middle of the Great Depression, and we’re late in the first term and early in the second of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The economy was much worse than today’s (unemployment rates in the high teens, occasionally cracking 20); the hard times had been going on for much longer than today’s Great Recession (the Depression started in 1929); and FDR’s first-term efforts to turn things around through an unprecedented creation and expansion of government programs and agencies had certainly not worked, at least enough.
But, according to Pew, which compared the 1930s poll results with some from today, the public was less angry about it, more optimistic that things would improve soon, wasn’t fed up with FDR (he was re-elected in 1936 in one of the biggest landslides ever) and, as Pew put it, “what Depression-era Americans wanted from their government was, on many counts, more, not less.”
As the Pew graphic just below summarizes, big majorities of Americans in 1936-37 wanted the government to take over the electric power industry and the war munitions industry, the public was roughly split on whether the government should take over the banks, but, for some reason, was strongly opposed to nationalizing the railroads.
Sounds like a buncha crazy Bolsheviks. But (again, from the Pew review of the ancient data):
“[W]hen asked if they had to make the choice would they opt for fascism or communism, [how’s that for a creepy question?] the public expressed a substantial preference for fascism (39%) over communism (25%), while 36% offered no opinion. (When the question was phrased in terms of living under a German- versus a Russian-type government, the public showed a similar preference for the German model.)
“Moreover, despite widespread deprivation far beyond anything experienced in modern-day America, by a margin of 50% to 42%, Americans in the mid-1930s rejected the idea of government limiting the size of private fortunes.”