Group Process and Communication Patterns in Collective Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Study

Norman R. Jackman and Carolyn W. Sherif 
with the collaboration of Lawrence La Fave


Collective behavior has long interested social scientists as a catalyst of social change. specific episodes of collective interaction range from the violent frenzy of a race riot to the thoroughly institutionalized patterns of a national nominating convention. Despite the differences between specific episodes and the unique features of each, all present certain common properties, which must be taken into account in research on the topic (Sherif and Sherif, 1956, Chapter 10).

First, during the actual collective encounters—expressive, unrestrained, or sedate, as the case may be—some issue is focal in the interaction of participants.

Second, neither the events transpiring during the collective encounter nor their outcomes are predictable without regard to antecedent conditions and events, involving "multiple" and interacting variables (cf. Lee and Humphrey, 1943). Typically, those interaction episodes with greatest import for the social scene occur in a context of conflicting interests between sub-sets of the population. When sufficiently intense and prolonged, such clashes furnish fertile soil for the formation of small groups devoted to one or the other side of the controversy, which may form the nucleii of social movements polarized on the issue.

Third, despite the spontaneous and disorderly appearance of many

( 2) episodes, collective interaction is not totally lacking in structure, nor is a charismatic leader typically the only organizing force. In varying degrees and combinations, the structure to be found stems from antecedent organizations (small groups or social movements), including their leadership, and ,he concrete conditions of interaction at the time, including the ecology of the situation and the presence or absence of opposed parties. The sources and the character of the structure, as well as its degree, are decidedly pertinent to the behaviors of participating individuals. Without analysis of the antecedents, the group ties and organization among participants, the structure of the immediate situation, behavior in collective interaction may well seem, as it did to Freud, a result of stripping the repressions of unconscious, evil instincts through the mysterious chemistry of mob excitement and leadership impact (cf. Freud, 1922, pp. 9-10).

The present study investigated collective behavior taking into account these properties by studying both the historical and immediate antecedents, group formations, and reactions of individual participants. Specifically, the aim was study of the formation and functioning of groups polarized on a controversial issue and of communication patterns among individual participants. This aim required selection of a real-life episode of collective behavior whose participants could be specified and followed over a period of time. The prohibition issue in Oklahoma was admirably suited since it was, at the time, uniquely localized and since earlier attempts to repeal prohibition had already been studied (Jackman and Sherif, 1959).

The properties of collective behavior required research tools appropriate to different units of analysis. In this sense, our study was necessarily

( 3) interdisciplinary. Through a combination of research techniques, the present study traces the historical background of the prohibition movement, then the immediate setting of the 1939 repeal referendum, the functioning of extant groups and the rise of new groups focalized on the issue, communications from in-group and opponents by individual participants.

The techniques used included historical analysis, demographic trends, content analysis, unstructured interviews, and analysis of individual judgements utilizing methods of experimental psychology. In context, the hypotheses examined through these techniques are specified.

Historical Background

The prohibition movement in the United States has its roots in rural America. It is inextricably entwined with the Agrarian-Populist movement, religious fundamentalism and the Suffragette movement (cf. Odegard, 1923).

The homogeneity of the rural community's integrative ethical system has been weakened by processes of urbanization. Increased mobility and .eider communication, resulting from technological innovations, have helped to produce a more sophisticated set of values in many areas of living, excepting, perhaps, the area of politics. American society has increasingly blurred the visible distinctions between class strata. Middle-class tolerance of differences in tastes has come more and more to predominate. As a result, the rural, religious and class conscious values associated with temperance have weakened. Certainly, as Gusfield (195) indicates, the membership of the W. C. T. U. has shown a steady decrease among professional people, proprietors, managers, and officials, and a steady increase

( 4) is skilled and unskilled groups. Consequently, to the extent that class distinctions are meaningful, the power of decision-making resident in middleclass and upper-class organizations has been lost in the temperance movement.

The Conflict of "Church" and "Sect"

The prohibition movement in the United Mates has been closely related to the church-sect conflict and the shift of rural to urban residence.

During the first three decades of the nineteenth century America saw a great popular religious revival, as many hitherto unaffiliated men and women were drawn into the newly emerged sects and splinter groups of older and then established churches. The movement was a response to the troubled social, political and economic conditions of a time which called forth radical religious and political solutions. One set of norms (or values) which emerged and was incorporated in the fundamentalistic theology of many sects was related to temperance and abstinence.

The Great Revival was... instrumental in stirring up a sentiment against the use of intoxicating liquors which had proved so detrimental to the individual and community in many places. During this era an active campaign was entered upon which steadily gained strength in the succeeding years (Cleveland, 1916 p. 153).

Odegard, writing in the 1920's, pointed to the rural base of the Protestant church in America, its social function in rural communities and the importance of a puritanical ethos in the lives of its congregations.

The rural church tends to be a center of intellectual and social life... The rural church, particularly the Protestant Church, is ideally adapted to crusading. It is more than a place of worship; it is a meeting-house, a forum.


The rural Protestant seems to be a natural-born reformer. To him the city is a place of vice and corruption, a fleshpot to be feared. It is the home of the "foreign element" which he abhors (Odegard, 1923, p. 29).

Both of the principal national prohibition organizations, the Anti-saloon League and the Women's Christian Temperance Union, drew much of their strength, both financial and recruitment, from protestant congregations on the sectarian end of the religious continuum (World Survey of the Inter-Church Movement, quoted in Odegard, 1928, pp. 29-30).

Though the prohibition movement was based in the Protestant church, not all protestant congregations lent their support. Since that era, some of the denominations supporting prohibition organizations have moved toward the "liberal" end of the church-sect continuum, or their congregations have split over such issues. But, at the time Odegard (1928) wrote, higher status protestant churches and churches composed of European ethnic groups, did not support the movement. Furthermore, in his words, the movement at that time:

... has received no appreciable support from the Catholics or Jews. The fact that the Episcopal and Lutheran churches do not as a rule admit the League speakers seems to justify the statement that it is a league of Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches, although it is not, by any means, limited to these denominations (p. 30).

The relationship between prohibition organizations and sectarian religious groups has continued to tie :resent time, Out open warfare between church and sect is a relatively recent phenomenon not perfectly correlated with stands on prohibition. Prior to World War II the sectarian congregations had a considerably greater membership than the older, established churches. At the present time in Oklahoma, it is probable that the established

(6) churches (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Methodist) have a larger membership than the sectarian congregations (Disciples of Christ, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, Church of the Nazarene). However, some Methodist congregations are today split on the prohibition issue, and so too are some Disciples and Baptist congregations. As the increasingly powerful middle-class churches in metropolitan areas have organized in the influential Council of Churches, they have become the target of the declining "churches of the disinherited, " as H. Richard Niebuhr ( 195 :) has termed them.

Some urban congregations maintain pietistic values, but the general tendency of urban religious groups is away from sectarian values. Of greater importance is the fact that in Oklahoma only 42. 4 per cent of the population are church members (National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U. S. A. , 1957). It is probable that by the late 1950's, more than 50 per cent of the voting population not reported on church membership roles were in favor of repeal. At any rate, the effectiveness of the role of the pulpit in the dissemination of propaganda is reduced considerably when the majority of the voting populace is not exposed to this source of appeal, whether the propaganda be dry, as it ordinarily was when mentioned, or tacitly wet by its absence.

The Rural to Urban Shift

An important factor in the waning of the prohibition movement in the United States has been the steady movement of the population from rural areas to urban communities. Though this process began in the nineteenth century, its period of peak acceleration occurred during and after the first


Table 1 Rural to Urban Population Shift: Oklahoma
No. of
Av. Acreage
Per Farm
Per Cent
1910 1910 1,657,155 190,192 151.7 19.3
1920 1920 2,028,283 191,988 166.4 26.6
1930 1930 2,396,040 203,866 165.8 34. 3
1940 2,336,434 179,687 193.7 37. 6
1950 2,233,351 142,246 253.1 51.0
1960 2,328,284   95,000 378.0 61.0
Source: Statistical Abstracts of the United States, Washington, D.C.; U. S. Government Printing Office (various editions)
Table 2 Counties Voting Wet by Population Rank: Oklahoma
Counties Population
Counties Population
  1 Oklahoma 10 Creek 36 Rogers
  2 Tulsa 11 Cleveland 39 Craig
  3 Muskogee 12 Pittsburg 40 McIntosh
  4 Comanche 14 Carter 44 Wagner
  5 Garfield 17 Grady 45 Blaine
  6 Kay 19 Osage 55 Kingfisher
  7 Payne 20 Washington 56 Nowata
  8 Okmulgee 26 Canadian 57 Noble
  9 Pottawatomie 27 Logan 61 Murray
 Source: Daily Oklahoman, April 9, 1959, p. 4.

(8) world war. As agriculture developed more rational techniques of farming, including an increased use of machinery, the size of agricultural holdings increased, while the farm labor force declined.

Table 1 shows this demographic and ecological shift for Oklahoma.

Five measures proposing repeal of prohibition were defeated in Oklahoma during the period 1910-1960 by margins ranging from five to nine per cent, except the last, in 1959, which reversed the trend. In 1959, the voters repealed prohibition and established a system of privately-owned package houses by a margin of six per cent. Between the election of 1949 and that of 1959 a shift of eleven per cent occurred in the voting.

The total vote in 1949 was 591, 140; in 1959 it was 711, 225. Of the state's 77 counties, 27 showed a majority of voters favoring repeal. Table 2 indicates the concentration of repeal votes in counties of the most dense population.

Though seven of these counties rank in the lower 50 per cent of all counties in density of population, they are adjacent to the three urban areas of the state: Oklahoma City, Tulsa and the Lawton-Fort Sill area.

The 1959 Repeal Referendum in Oklahoma

In the months immediately preceding the popular referendum on the question of repeal or retention of the prohibition clause in the state constitution of Oklahoma, new interest groups emerged and old groups were revitalized as concerned individuals moved toward a wet-dry polarization. As the pressure to mobilize support for the opposing stands increased, in-group harmony weakened and cliques developed within each major alignment.

Three groups favoring repeal arose and contested for the support of

( 9) uncommitted or indecisive voters.[1] The earliest group to organize called itself the Citizens Committee for Repeal of Bootleg Control. It was led by an aggressive and vocal member of the state legislature from the largest urban area of the state. He was a bitter political opponent of the newly elected governor who headed the second 5:- et group, the so-called "Governor's Committee. " The third group was the League for Legal Control, which claimed the backing of the Distillers' Institute, an organization which has considerable authority in the issue of retail and wholesale liquor licenses.

These three groups favoring repeal formed in different ways and were initially uncooperative with each other, even sharply critical of the others' aims. Finally, they amalgamated as the United Oklahomans for Repeal.

On the dry side, the traditional proponents of prohibition—the United Drys and Women's Christian Temperance Union—were joined by factions from various protestant organizations. The activities of these groups were marked by internal dissension and suspicion of other dry groups.

Characterization of the dry and wet groups will illustrate the frictions within the groups and between groups taking the same side on the issue,

(10) as well as with opponents. The striking finding is the stereotyped imputation of "bad faith" and unsavory aims both to other groups supporting the same side of the issue and to opponents. Leadership within each of the factions retarded its motives as laudable and its position as both "realistic" and "objective."

Major Wet Groups

In the following characterizations of the wet and dry groups, evidence quotations not otherwise cited is from our interviews with members of the organizations and tape recordings of their meetings.

Citizens Committee for Repeal of Bootleg Control. The leaders of this group dismissed the League for Legal Control as weak and unable to maintain popular support. They violently attacked the Governor's Committee, which defined itself as a neutral, "fact-finding" board of experts.

A leader of the Citizens Committee told an interviewer that the governor-elect was on the side of the Drys because he was allegedly drawing a bill proposing the "open saloon", which would be certain to lose, while his own group proposed only a package house bill which would be sure to win. This respondent said: "(The Governor) is completely crooked; we have photostatic copies of his failure to prosecute bootleggers in Tulsa.... (He) is an epileptic and a homosexual."

Another leader of the Citizens Committee, the state senator who headed their group, was pushing his petition to force the Governor to submit a repeal bill to the legislature, "otherwise he (the Governor) might stall on a bill. He wants to be all things to all people. "

The state senatorial head of the Citizens Committee further said that

( 11) the Governor's Committee "is so large it will be surprising if they can agree on the Ten Commandments before they are through. "

One respondent claimed the League had been promised $150, 000 by the Distillers' Institute for publicity purposes. Another leader of the Committee for Repeal said that big oil money was behind the League and they had the backing of most hotel owners. He implied dishonesty in the expenditure of money collected for the repeal campaign.

The head of the Citizens Committee charged that the Tulsa group was attempting to raise funds by selling memberships in its organization. "It is not necessary for anybody to contribute money to participate in this repeal program.... My organization is not a part of this hustling money from the people. I don't want this other group to use our effort for repeal to collect money from people. All we are asking is for volunteers to circulate our petitions. "

Several weeks later a leader of the Citizens Committee said the League would lose the Distillers' Institute backing to his group. "The League cannot deliver, therefore the D. I, will swing to (our) group. " Several days later another Committee spokesman said that the League was collapsing, that it was unable to raise any money. "I have this from a close, and usually reliable source."

The attitudes of the Citizens Committee toward the Oklahoma League for Legal Control and the Governor's Committee changed from the initial period of their organization, when they were viewed with considerable hostility, through a period when they were defined as powerless, to a final positive attitude at the time of amalgamation of all three groups in the United

( 12) Oklahomans for Repeal.

After the Citizens Committee and the League merged, leaders of the Committee welcomed the support of their like-minded friends from Tulsa and the combined groups stepped up their attack on the Governor's Committee. Initially, the state senator who headed the former group was reticent in discussing the Governor's stand with interviewers and newspaper reporters. However, as the governor prepared to take office and submit his bill to the legislature, the senator called the bill "a dripping wet, swilling program, " despite the fact that the only difference between the two bills was statewide repeal vs. county option and differences in the distribution of liquor tax revenue. The senator subsequently added that the governor's program was "a pig in a poke. It is just what the racketeers and bootleggers want. " The senator then identified with dry forces by stating that the governor's program "will antagonize the good Baptists and the good Methodists. "

The state senator described his bill as "the product of the best legal minds in the state and the liberal group in the legislative council. " He consistently justified his alignments and re-alignments in terms of "the reality of the situation, " of becoming aware of facts hitherto unknown to him and, in one instance, stated that "it would be better to sacrifice principles rather than to risk the loss of one penny to the school children of Oklahoma County through the threatened picketing by militant drys. "

After the governor's inauguration in January 1959, the three groups combined in the United Oklahomans for Repeal and open intragroup conflict ceased.

The Governor's Committee. The governor-elect established a

( 13) committee six weeks before taking office to "study all of the plans of the control laws," according to a district judge who was chairman of the group. "We want the views of all the people for and against repeal.

At the initial meeting of the group the governor-elect said that:

Judge —— will be fair and impartial as chairman of this committee. You (members of the committee) have been selected not only because you represent the state geographically but also because you represent the thinking of the people of the state and because you are thinking people... I will never attempt to influence your thinking in any way and will not come before this committee again unless you request my appearance. My office will cooperate in every possible way.

Throughout the period prior to the vote on the referendum, the governor-elect attempted to maintain a neutral attitude, though he was defined as a "wet" by drys and as a "dry" by wets. As noted above, the state senator's Citizen's Committee for Repeal of Bootleg Control accused the governor of supporting the Drys by proposing a plan which was sure to fail at the polls. A member of the Governor's Committee from a rural, dry county said a local W. C. T. U. leader had called him and said that she was happy he was on the committee, "though some people were casting glances at him. "

Even stronger attacks on the governor-elect, as the guiding force behind this committee, were made by Dry leaders, particularly when the Governor employed the tactic, for several months prior to the referendum vote, of strict legal enforcement: of the prohibition laws.

The Governor's Committee claimed members who were Drys by moral conviction but who were "realistic" in composing a bill and submitting it to popular vote at the earliest possible time. One newspaper editor on the Governor's Committee from a rural area said that he was a "teetotler and

( 14) a part-time volunteer clergyman, " who preached dry sermons. "'We should quickly and immediately agree on submitting to the governor-elect a repeal plan. " He indicated that the majority of people -ranted repeal and "the majority must not be hindered from expressing its opinion. " He was not, however, totally committed to the Jet cause. He said :hat he had heard liquor dealers in surrounding states were raising $100, 000 to keep the state dry. "Can't stop them, but I believe people should decide, not pressure groups. "

The League for Legal Control. The Tulsa group, accused by other Wets and by Drys of representing the Distillers' Institute and hotel and tavern interests, advocated a bill which would allow the sale of individual drinks over the counter. They argued that package houses weren't enough and that people would drink semi-publicly in private clubs and speak-easys. Hence legal recognition of this fact would reduce the law enforcement problem and allow the state to gain revenue from licensing and taxation. A spokesman for this group said that the petition proposal of the Citizen's Committee would allow eighteen year old girls to buy liquor, and they, like the prohibitionists, were against the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors.

Another spokesman for this group objected to what he called the "tricky phrasing" in the Citizen's Committee bill which would allow misinterpretations and a law enforcement problem.

The leaders of the League for Legal Control felt that they had done intensive research on the problem of liquor control and were the best informed of any group in the state. Their group wanted the establishment of a "private corporation" to control the wholesaling of liquor. He said that the senatorial leader of the Citizen's Committee was opposed to this because

(15) liquor was sold across the counter than in states which licensed only package houses. He added that "there were several special interest groups for open bars, who would control the placement of these bars. " This he regarded as undemocratic, since the bars would be in restaurants and hotels where "the working man would not be able to stop in for a drink, " because of his working clothes. "The poorer people would have no place to go, for they don't have their clubs and would therefore feel discriminated against. "

In response to a question regarding the influence of the Distillers' Institute on their group, as alleged by the Citizen's Committee, a leader of the League for Legal Control stated that he didn't know the position of the distillers on the issue. He added:

Our organization is riot receiving financial support from the distillers. However, we are making use of literature and statistics the distillers have sent us. I am very impressed with the self-imposed advertising restrictions that the distillers are using. I believe that they do as much business in Oklahoma under prohibition—indirectly, of course.

In reference to the Citizen's Committee and its support by the major news media (radio, T. V. and newspapers) in the state, this spokesman for the League indicated that the petition for county-option was simply an attention-getting device and effectively "doesn't mean a damn thing. " He implied

(16) that the publishers support of the petition was hypocritical and that "many of his (the publisher's) friends drink, and he really isn't so dry, although his wife is. "

Dry Groups

On the Dry side of the issue a number of groups also arose and contested for primacy in the struggle to attract a following and influence the uncommitted voter.

The United Drys and the Women's Christian Temperance Union were the best publicized organizations, but the real conflict was the unpublicized religious struggle between the Methodists and the Baptists on the one hand and the Methodists and Presbyterians on the other. As stated above, the Methodists had the greatest number of congregations splitting over the prohibition issue. In a sense their congregations were pulled toward the Dry side by the Baptists and toward the Wet side by the Presbyterians.

The principal indication of trouble in the ranks of the United Drys (an organization characterized by a disgruntled county leader of the W. C. T. U. as controlled by male clergymen, and the most powerful of the Dry organizations) was the resignation of Dr. ——. Dr. —— was a Methodist minister who claimed an advanced degree in "abnormal psychology, and had served ac the president of a denominational college and a dean of a denominational university of some academic standing.

Dr. —— claimed that he resigned the leadership of the United Drys because of divisive factions within the organization, but neither our inter - viewers nor the press was able to elicit specific information on this factionalism. However, a number of pertinent factors on the intergroup conflict

( 17) among Drys emerged from our interviews.


Dr. —— felt that the leadership of the United Drys had come to take him for granted. He hoped that his resignation "would shock Drys sufficiently to draw them together. " He stated that his hope for the Dry cause lay in the churches.

We can find one hundred churches to give $100, 000. We need one-quarter of a million to vein. The Drys have the majority of voters and can be reached from the pulpits.

In answer to a question asking him whether or not he had told the newspapers that after his resignation people should put all the blame of the failure to unite Dry forces on him, he answered:

 I've spent my life in universities, and much of it administering, and the work of schools. Every single department in a school like (state university) is made up of very human individuals who inwardly fume often with unholy ambitions and jealousies and rivalries within a department and especially across the departments in another department. There's always a tremendous demand on the part of the administration to make the departments work together because they're made up of human beings. The U. D. is made up similarly of departments, that is, denominations. And within the denominations different types of minds, all human individuals, and my appeal to them was to forget the diversiveness that had come down from the political campaign like we just came through and in which we had two dry candidates who killed each other off by attacking each other bitterly and splitting the Christian people across the state, (referring to the earlier beer referendum).

Some indications of Dr. ——'s attitudes toward the Presbyterians came out in this interview. "The Presbyterians once took a stand (with the Drys), but they have all slid out, led by Dr. ——, there in (a university town). There are exceptions, of course, among the Presbyterian ministers and churches. "


In this interview the respondent strongly attacked a group of "priests, " presumably Catholics or Episcopalians, who had appealed to the upper-middle and upper classes in the community. The following is selected from the transcription of a tape recording:

That particular denomination has thrived as sort of a religious social club, with more emphasis on the "social" than on the "religious. " They boast of the country club percentage of members. "..,e wouldn't have an alcohol program except that it has been sold to our so-called leading business and professional people that it is a sign of social acceptancy.

When I was administrative dean of  —— University, being a psychologist, I was also a member of the downtown clubs—Kiwanis Club. And that club was sending me out all over the state to speak at dinners on the average of once a week. When I accepted this job (Executive Director of the United Drys), overnight that stopped. I'm one of the untouchables. It's ridiculous to nee, perfectly laughable, how hidebound our professional groups have become to this social acceptability of alcohol. And they have in America now a sacred cow which musn't be touched, and that's drinking. You become a fanatic, socially unacceptable, a leper in any community where this type of people are in the saddle. And they are in the larger cities. It's funny to me because I lost a lot of friends across the state, and I gained thousands of others who, in my book, are a better class of citizens; they've got guts to express their moral convictions and stand by them. And those guts are not in the Country Clubs or Chambers of Commerce. They woefully lack guts and they lack wisdom.

Another respondent illustrates the position taken by individuals on both sides of the issue—the belief that they were completely objective. As a Baptist minister and a leader in a local United Dry organization, this respondent was suspicious of the interviewer's motives. He said he had recently given his views to a man who claimed neutrality and objectivity, but who subsequently published a distorted version of the interview. He said

(19) that he was not "emotional" about the prohibition issue and could give our interviewer an objective view of the situation. His interview, however, was at the Dry extreme of a et-Dry continuum of norms, and his perception of the issue was distorted by this extreme position from which he viewed others. For example, he stated that both the Young Republicans and the Young Democrats had refused to support a repeal plank. Actually, the Young Democrats had publicly stated their support of a repeal measure.

This respondent stated that the United Drys was composed of representatives of all religious denominations, an obvious inaccuracy. He judged the Methodists as strong Drys, whereas Methodists congregations were split over the issue. "The Methodist Board of Temperance is still active, their views are a part of the religious teaching of that church, " he claimed.

He indicated that there was some conflict between the United Drys, and the W. C. T. U. , a point other respondents also made. He said that "the ?'. C. T. U. is getting up in years, the-,,r are not recruiting young blood, " and added that they "had drifted toward a social outlet. " After probing, he indicated that he believed they had become a highly isolated in-group, whose members were concerned with interpersonal relations to the neglect of aims, goals and recruitment, and that they "held a little too far from direct contact with ministers. "

It was apparent from our interviews that the split between the United Drys and the W. C. T. U. was due largely to a feeling on the part of members of the latter group that the United Drys was dominated by clergymen who were hostile to the leadership aspirations of these women, many of whom had been active in the Suffragette movement forty years earlier. For example,

( 20) a past chairman of a county unit of the W. C. T. U. stated that the churches were not as active on the issue as they should be because they have so many activities which drain off church finances. She implied that an organization devoted exclusively to prohibition, as was the W. C. T. U. , was more effective. This respondent stressed her part in the Suffragette movement and explained that, though they had representatives in the United Dry organization, she felt they were dominated by clergymen.

An interesting sidelight, illustrating her perception of the focal point—alcoholism—was illustrated in her statement that "it has been proven that three glasses of beer are equal in alcoholic content to a fifth (four-fifths of a quart) of alcohol. "

This respondent recognized the splits in the Dry Movement. She said that some churches did not particularly favor the dry cause. After stating that she preferred not to mention the churches to which she referred she said that "Dr. —— (minister of a high-status Presbyterian congregation) is a wet; he favors package houses. " She added that the Presbyterian church was split over the issue and the Church of Christ would not actively support the dry cause, "but their people are dry. They will vote but not sign petitions. " (Several Dry respondents said, or implied, that the clergy was often more "liberal" on this issue than were their congregations, but others stated that the clergy had been pushed in a : et direction by their "socially-minded", middle-class congregations. )

She felt that Drys didn't rally to the cause in the beer referendum which preceded the present referendum—" a lot weren't registered. " Her attitude toward some churches was expressed in the following statement:

( 21)

The Wets are fairly well organized, but rather secretive about it. Like those foreign religious groups that go around preaching a doctrine and don't say what they stand for. Wet tactics are the same, secretive, a lot of them are bought off.

One respondent illustrated certain fears which apparently beset W. C. T. U. members, and other members of the Dry cause:

 Lots of people say it's just a bunch of old ladies, but I think we've done a lot of good work....

 We are losing the fight in holding prohibition. Only the Lord can straighten it out....

 The Board of Temperance (of the Methodist Church) worked hard on the beer referendum. The Christian Church (the respondent's church) didn't work very hard....

 People can't be church members and be true alcoholic s... Social drinkers are not good church members; they've slipped.

Perception of the issue is illustrated by a strong Dry who stated that there was no chance of prohibition being repealed in the up-coming referendum, "but the hand writing is on the wall. Oklahoma will go wet within the next twenty or thirty years. " He didn't believe apathy lost the last election (beer referendum): "A lot of people didn't have strong convictions, but this is not apathy. " His view of his position relative to his church (Southern Baptist), a strongly Dry Church, but one which is showing some change in metropolitan, middle-class areas, reflects a change in values: "I try not to be a complete radical, but I make my views known. "

Summary of In-Group Values in Wet and Dry Groups

Until they united prior to the referendum, the Wet groups were in striking disagreement concerning the proper "wet" position. Although the

( 22) drive for repeal that emerged among these was successful, the specific values of a "wet" stand were not as clear-cut and unanimously shared as those traditionally upheld by Dry groups. Thus to some voters, repeal meant local option; to others it meant state controlled liquor stores; to still others, it meant counter sale of mixed drinks.

The values and tactics of the Dry groups, on the other hand, were wall known, despite the conflict among Dry groups. They may be summarized as follows:

(1) the consumption of alcoholic beverages is evil and should be prohibited by law, (Z) those who advocate the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages are evil, misled, sick, or foreigners, and (3) the opponents are more powerful politically and financially, but "God is on our side and the Truth shall prevail," through education, political pressure, and the mobilization of religious organizations and communication from the pulpit.

The values and tactics of the wet resistance to prohibition may be summarized as follows:

(1) drinking is a matter of personal decision, and the Constitution of the United States guarantees every man the right of his personal decision in matters not affecting the general welfare, (2) the liquor traffic is legitimate business and, under laissez faire capitalism, should not be subject of special legislation, (3) facts prove that the free production and consumption of alcoholic beverages reduces crime, contempt for the law, alcoholism, and taxation, and ( ) these values shall be implemented through advertising, political pressure and the mobilization of business and service organizations.

In-Group and Out-Group Stereotypes. Both wet and dry groups standardize judgment of their members and of the adversary. In-group members view themselves as reasonable man who simply advocate that which any

(23) honest, right-thinking person must recognize as truth. On the other hand, they view their adversaries in an equally stereotyped manner, but as polar opposites. As Sherif and Sherif (1956, p. 653) have indicated, "stereotypes can be taken as one index of social distance, " which develops out of the history of groups in conflict over divergent interests.

As with all in-groups following diametrically opposite goals, Drys and Wets have standardized favorable stereotypes in regard to their values and goals, and unfavorable stereotypes for the adversary. Prior to national prohibition, established in 1920, the enemies of total abstinence were viewed as un-American foreigners and greedy corrupters, for profit, of all that was fine, Christian, and democratic in this country. At the same time, dry organizations constantly presented a picture of their members as representative of all that was good, righteous, and patriotic. They identified themselves with God and Christianity.

Wet groups viewed their opponents as "canting hypocrites and Jesuitical grafters, " and themselves as representatives of hard-working, childrearing, honest immigrants.[2] The remnants of these views were still evident in 1959, but there was by that time a greater emphasis on the "sophistication" or worldliness of Wets, both by Dry and Wet groups. This change

(24) in stereotypes is doubtless a reflection of the trend toward urbanization in the state.

The Experiment

The problem of the experimental aspect of this research concerned individuals' perceptions and evaluations of arguments presented by their own side in the controversy, arguments by the opposition, and more moderate statements concerning the issue.

On the basis of the content analysis of the communications in newspapers, on the radio and television, from pamphlets and signs, and from interviews with leaders and members of opposing groups, brief statements were formulated which represented the opposing arguments frequently repeated during pre-referendum controversy as points of fact. Our predictions concern the judgment of the truth or falsity of these "points of fact" by their proponents and by members of the opposition.

Specifically, it was predicted that individuals strongly committed to a stand on the issue would regard "points of fact" supporting their own stand as more true than those contrary to their stand. That is, Drys should rate statements drawn from Dry sources as containing more truth than Wets, who would rate them at the false end of the scale. Conversely, "Wets should see their "facts" as truer than Drys would see them. Mildly dry statements should be judged more true by Drys than by Wets, even though they are not exaggerated statements of the evils of alcoholism.

In line with Sherif and Hovland's finding (1961) that the latitude of rejection was greater than the latitude of acceptance for highly committed

( 25) individuals, we further predicted that committed lets and Drys would be highly prone to view their opponents "facts" as false and to be cautious about accepting any argument as true. That is, having taken a strong stand on the issue, their thresholds for acceptance of truths should be raised, but the threshold for falsity in the opponent's arguments should be lowered. Although they had no way of knowing whether the statements emanated from their own side, other than the content of the statements themselves, they would be cautious in acceptance even when the statements accurately represented their side of the controversy.

We were also interested in specifying the group-related character of the predicted tendency for Ss to see more truth in their own arguments than in those of the enemy. If the source of the statements was not specified, would the partisans recognize the "facts" presented by their side and by the opposition? If a point is rated "true", would it be attributed to the in-group or to the out-group? If a point is judged "false", would there be a tendency to disclaim ownership of it?

We predicted that proponents of a stand would tend to disclaim "facts" they regarded as false, and to discredit the oppositions' claims to truth.

Subjects and Procedures

The subjects were (1) 89 committed members of the dry groups opposed to repeal, (2) 66 declared proponents of repeal, most of them active in the repeal movement, and (3) `_50 captive classroom Ss from a state university composing a "mixed" sample, but preponderantly classified as Wet by responses to a questionnaire item. Fifty-eight per cent were male, and

(26) forty-two per cent female. No attempt was made to control for age or educational level, since these variables are correlated with taking a stand on one side or the other of this issue. In short, the average age of Wets was younger, and their educational level higher, than Drys. Approximately 60 per cent were under thirty years of age and forty per cent over thirty years.

Subjects were eliminated if under eighteen years of age or if they did not complete all the procedures as instructed. Since participation in the research was entirely voluntary (except for the student "mixed" group), failure to follow procedures was more likely among individuals of lower educational levels and less sophistication in paper-and-pencil tasks. Indeed, those eliminated for this reason were chiefly older, less educated persons. The results to be reported derive, therefore, from more educated, sophisticated and presumably intelligent citizens upholding one side or the other.

The procedures were carried out at meetings of Wet and Dry groups to which Ss belonged or, in the case of the mixed sample, during regularly scheduled class hours. They were administered with the proper instructions relative to anonymity and the procedure for making alternative responses to the questions.

This is a public opinion poll which we hope will tell us the opinions of Oklahomans on the subject of drinking. We are interested in the opinions of groups rather than individuals, so please don't sign your name.

Twenty statements are listed below; under each statement is a horizontal line. One end of the line is marked "very true", and the other end of the line is marked "very false". Please put an up-and-down line through the horizontal line at a place which most nearly shows how you feel about the statement. If you have no strong feelings about the statement, one

(26) way or the other, mark the line in the middle.

Under each line is a question asking you who would be most likely to make such a statement: A Wet, a Dry, or "don't know". Three places to check are given. Please check one of them for each statement.

Ss were to indicate the relative truth of each of the 20 statements on an 11 cm. linear scale from "very true" to "very false" and to check one of the three alternatives to who would most likely say this ? " ("a Wet, " "a Dry, " or "don't know"). Then S filled in needed information by giving his own stand on the repeal measure on a 9 cm. scale ranging from "altogether for repeal" to "altogether against repeal, " and stating his education, age, sex, residence, religion, race, and affiliation with wet or dry organizations.

Most of the statements that Ss were asked to judge pertained to events concerning which factual data existed, but it should be emphasized that many or most of these events would be difficult to prove definitively. That is, data on the effects of drinking and alcoholism are incomplete and open to various interpretations.

The following statements are representative of those offered by the opposing camps:

Dry: "A great many girls lost their virginity because of their drinking. " "Prostitution wouldn't exist if it weren't for liquor. " "Practically all crime results from the use of alcohol. "

Wet: "Mild drinking at social events encourages good fellowship. " "One can be truly religious and still take a drink, " "According to the Bible, moderate drinking is all right. "

The moderate statements all pertained to the negative effects of

(28) drinking stated in a qualified, rather than an extreme, form. For example: "Some mental cases result from too much drinking. " "Some crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol. " "Many automobile accidents occur because of drunken driving. "


The data consist of Ss responses to eight statements of the dry point of view, six statements of wet points of view, and six relatively objective, or value neutral, statements implying the danger of alcoholism. The last category is referred to as "moderately dry" statements. As a preliminary step, variability of responses by all Ss combined was examined for each of the twenty statements presented.

Our hypotheses are dependent upon the assumed inability of individuals to ascertain fully the factual basis of these statements. Therefore, statements that the individual could accurately check against empirical evidence were not appropriate for testing them. Given common experiences, variation of responses should be small to a clear statement of empirical fact by individuals with opposing stands. Two of the original moderate statements were of this nature (e. g. , "Some people do things when they are drunk which they are sorry for afterwards"). As expected, response variance was very small for these items. Therefore, they are not included in the further analysis. The similarity of responses to these items does, however, clarify the conditions in which judgments of truth or falsity may fall victim to the individual's attitude on a controversial issue. In short, to he extent that a: statements refer to commonly observed events, the consensus among respondents.

( 29)

Table 3 Mean Degree of Truth Judged in Statements*
Ss Positions on Issues
(Moderately Wet
Statements Dry Wet P
Dry 4.31 8.57 8.97 <. 001
Moderately dry 1.56 2.94 3.91 <.001
Wet 8.87 5.51 4.77 <. 001
N 89 150     66  
  *"Very true" = 0 "Very false" = 11


Table 4 Outcomes of Orthogonal Comparisons between Judgments by Ss with Different Stands
Statments Wet vs Dry Mixed vs Wets and Drys
Dry s s
Moderately Dry s ns
Wet s s
* s = significant, ns = not significant, alpha = .01


The raw data used to test the first hypotheses were the locations of Ss' marks on the 11 cm. linear scales, measured to the nearest half centimeter. Arithmetic means of these ratings were computed for each sample of Ss for all dry statements, all wet statements and all moderately dry statements.

The means of the judgments as to the relative "truth" of the dry, moderately dry, and wet statements are presented in Table 3 for each sample of Ss (Dry, Mixed and Wet).

Analysis of variance was performed on judgments of each set of statements by the three samples. Obtained F values were significant (p <.001 for each analysis). Accordingly, the sums of squares for the Wet, Mixed and Dry Ss were used in making two orthogonal comparisons for each analysis (the weighting coefficients being adjusted for unequal n's). The first comparison was between the Drys and the Wets; the second compared these two extremes with the mixed sample. The outcomes of these comparisons are indicated in Table 4. The only F ratio not significant was

that between the mixed sample and the extremes for the moderate statements.

In line with the predictions, the analysis in Tables 3 and 4 permit the following generalizations:

(1) Statements supporting a "dry" position are judged significantly more truthful by Ss committed to a dry stand than by either committed Wet Ss or the mixed (moderately wet) S's.

(2) Statements supporting a wet position are judged significantly more truthful by Wet Ss than by either Dry Ss or the mixed (moderately wet) Ss.

(3) Moderately dry statements are judged as more truthful by Dry Ss

( 31) than by Wet Ss.

(4) Moderately dry statements are judged as more truthful by all Ss than statements supporting one of the two extremes positions. In the case of et Ss, the result is that the average judgment of the truth in the moderately dry statements approximates their average judgment for the wet statements.

The hypotheses predicting a lowered threshold for perceiving falsity in the opponent's arguments, and a raised threshold for truth, was tested by computing the proportions of the ratings made by each .S sample that were "true, " "false, " or "intermediate". For this analysis, a rating was classified as "true" if it was located within the 4 cms. near the "very true" end of the linear scales, as "false" if it was within the 4 eras. near the "very false" end, and as "intermediate" if it was within the middle 2 cms.

Table 5 presents the proportions of "true", "intermediate", and "false" ratings for the statements representing the opponent's view for Dry and y et Ss: that is, the wet statements as rated by Dry Ss and dry statements as rated by Wet Ss. The large proportions of "false" for the opposition points support the hypothesis of a lowered threshold for judging the opponent's arguments as false.

The distributions in Table 5 may be compared to those in Table 6, giving the comparable proportions for ratings of the arguments used by partisans of one's own side in the controversy.

These data indicate a cautiousness on the part of Ss about rating statements as true, even when they are arguments actually offered by partisans of one's own side. That is, strong commitment to an extreme stand


Table 5 How Much Truth in the Opponents Arguments?
Percentages of True, Intermediate, and False Ratings of the Opposition's Statements
Rating Dry Ss Rating Wet Statements Wet Ss Rating Dry Statements
% %
True 12.5 10.0
Intermediate 13 18
False 74.5 72


Table 6. How Much Truth in the Arguments Presented by In-Group
Percentages of True, Intermediate, and False Ratings of Statements used by In-group
Rating Dry Ss Rating Dry Statements Wet Ss Rating Wet Statements
% %
True 58.9 52.0
Intermediate 18. 6 25.7
False 22.5 22. 3

(33) does produce a raised threshold of acceptance as predicted.

In order to assess these findings further, the ratings of "false, " "intermediate, and "true" for statements on one's own side of the fence were analyzed to discover to whom the statements were attributed. This analysis throws light on the accuracy with which Ss perceive propaganda emanating from organizational spokesman of their own side of the issue. It also throws light on the selective process of attribution of statements associated with a raised threshold of acceptance for these statements.

The striking outcome is that Dry Ss attributed 90.7 per cent of the dry statements which they rated true to the in-group, but attributed only 56.4 per cent of the dry statements they rated intermediate in truth, and 65. 6 per cent of those they rated false to the in-group (see Table 7). The rest of the dry statements that they rated intermediate or false were either attributed to the out-group (erroneously) or the source was a mystery to the individual ("don't know, " ratings).

The outcome is even more prominent for wet Ss rating Wet statements. Of the "true" ratings, 77. 7 per cent were attributed to the in-group, but only 42. 3 per cent of wet statements which they rated intermediate in truth, and 32. 9 per cent of wet statements labeled "false" were attributed to Wets by Wet Ss. In other words, of the wet statements labeled false by Wet Ss, fully 67 per cent we re not even attributed by them to wet spokesman. The higher correct recognition by Drys probably relates to the longer exposure to the rather clear-cut dry arguments.

If respondents disagree with a statement, they tend not to attribute the source of the statement to the in-group. Furthermore, publics had been

( 34)

Table 7 Correct Attribution of Statements Made by One's Own Side Percentages of Statements Rated True, Intermediate, and False Which were Correctly Atrributed)
Rating Dry Ss Attribution dry statements to Drys Wet Ss Attributing set statements to Wets
% %
True 90.7 77.7
Intermediate 56.4 42.3
False 65.6 32.9


Table 8 Attribution of the Opposition's Arguments Which S Rated True
Percentage of Statements Rated True
Mixed Sample Rating
Attributed to: Dry Ss Rating Wet Statements Wet Ss Rating Dry Statements Wet Statements Dry Statements
% % % %
Wets Wets 49.3 18.9 82 14.4
Drys Drys 40.3 54.7 6.6 77.8
Don't Know Don't Know 10.4 26.4 11.4   7.8

(35) exposed to dry communications, in all of their clear-cut simplicity, for a much longer period than to wet communications. ; et organizations emerged only at the time of a referendum and disappeared after its resolution. The Wets were, therefore, less well organized and less able to communicate their message with unanimity in the time available.

This finding raises the question of who received the credit for opposition arguments which an S rated as "true". Did they attribute them correctly to the out-group? The reactions of the less committed and moderately wet (mixed) sample can serve as a basis for assessing the trends in Wet and Dry samples (see Table 8). Of the "true" ratings for wet statements by the mixed sample, 82 per cent were attributed to Wets (correctly). Similarly, 77. 8 per cent of the dry statements rated true by the mixed sample were attributed to Drys (correctly). In contrast, only 49. 3 per cent of the wet statements rated true by try '-s were attributed correctly to the out-group (i. e. to the Wets). Likewise, only about half (54.7 per cent) of the dry statements rated true by et Ss were correctly attributed to Drys.

The moderately dry statements were, on the whole, correctly attributed to the Dry's by Dry Ss and the mixed sample, whether they rated them true, false, or intermediate in truth. However, the Wet Ss attributed to Drys only 66. 7 per cent of the moderately dry statements that they regarded as true, while generously attributing to the Drys 35 per cent of those they rated as false.

When Ss regarded a statement as intermediate in truth, its source was a greater mystery to them. This is true of Ss in every sample, particularly when the statements were actually made by partisans of one's own

( 36) side. Thus, of the dry statements rated intermediate in truth by Dry Ss, knowledge of the source was disclaimed for 43. 6 per cent of them. Likewise, of the wet statements rated intermediate in truth by Wet Ss, the source was unknown ("don't know") for 50. 9 per cent of them.

The results of this study have supported the following hypotheses relative to the perception of events clustering about the recent prohibition referendum in Oklahoma by samples of more or less involved individuals:

(1) Strongly committed individuals will judge statements supporting their stand as more true than statements contradicting their stand.

(2) Strongly committed individuals exhibit a raised threshold of acceptance even for statements emanating from their own side. At the same time, the threshold for falsity in the opponent's arguments is lowered.

(3) When the source of the statements is not specified, strongly committed individuals see more truth in statements emanating from their own side than in those of the opposition, where the proportion of truth is seen, almost literally, as a "grain. "

(4) When the source is not specified, strongly committed individuals tend to attribute statements which they regard as true to their group and disclaim statements which they regard as false no matter what the actual source of the statement.

In short, proponents of a stand tend to disclaim "facts" they regard as false and to discredit the opposition's claims to truth. Less committed individuals, however, more accurately attribute statements to their proper sources.

In general, involvement in an issue raises the threshold for accepting

( 37) statements concerning the issue as true and lowers the threshold for rejecting them as false. Thus, the intergroup struggle for the decision through propaganda is reflected in the judgments of individual partisans of one side or another. In turn, the judgment process contributes to the solidarity of each side engaged in the controversy by affirming the correctness of one's own side and the errors in the opposition argument.

Summary and Conclusion

This study of the recent prohibition referendum in Oklahoma has attempted to demonstrate two principal theoretical and methodological points of importance in the analysis of any type of collective interaction.

In the first place, it must be recognized that such phenomena posses "multiple causes and multiple results" (Lee and Humphrey, 1943, p. 89). In the instance of the wet-dry referendum, which resulted in repeal, it is too early to adequately assess all of the results. Analysis of the process of collective behavior cannot be restricted to the dramatic end product of a series of historical and institutional factors. Too often the description of a riot, a revolution or a lynching is restricted to the relatively short period of violence. From such a restricted focus, most investigators are prone to conclude that collective behavior is spontaneous, ephemeral and the agent of rapid and dramatic social change. Concern with background conditions indicates that dramatic or violent social conflict need not be indicative of cataclysmic breaks with the past. In the present case, repeal appears as part of trends well underway for many years prior to the referendum.

Secondly, this study points to the importance of viewing instances of

( 38) collective interaction from the perspective of different levels of analysis, demanding different techniques. Specifically, an analysis of a single instance of voting behavior must include an attempt to generalize from historical data, pro- and anti-group organization, value formation, and ecological changes pertinent to the outcome of the issue.

At a different level of analysis, the immediate issue, which is a culmination of multiple background factors, must be viewed from the perspective of key participants, leaders and actively involved members as they interact with supporters and counteract opposition tactics. From the unstructured interviews, content analysis of the news media and propagandistic appeals in various forms, a test of middle-level hypotheses relating to in-group and intergroup conflict is possible. Furthermore, this effort produces material for the construction of items incorporated in a still different level of analysis. A study of the attitudes of concerned and unconcerned individuals in a natural group setting allows the investigator to support more precisely the aforementioned hypotheses developed and tested at a broader level of analysis.

It is only through a successful amalgamation of different social perspectives, accompanied by their appropriate techniques, that increase in understanding of social phenomena will be accomplished.

( 39)


Cleveland, Catherine C. , 1916. The Great Revival in the West, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Freud, S.. , 1922. Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, London: Hogarth.

Gusfield, Joseph, 1955. Social structure and moral reform. A study of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, Amer. J. Sociol., 61, 221-232.

Lee, A. M. and Humphrey, N. , 1943. Race Riot, New York: The Dryden Press, Inc.

Jackman, N. and Sherif, 1M., 1959. Group processes and communication on the prohibition issue, Sociology and Social Research, 43, 267-268.

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. , 1957. Churches and Church Membership in the United States, Series C, No. 46, New York: National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U, S. A.

Sherif, M. and Hovland, C. I. , 1961. Social Judgment: Assimilation. and Contrast Effects in Communication and Attitude Change, New Haven, Yale University Press.

Sherif, M. and Sherif, Carolyn W., 1956. An Outline of Social Psychology, New York: Harper and Row.


  1. A number of minor groups favoring repeal were also effective in mobilizing public interest and rallying special segments of the population. The Oklahoma Economic Institute was headed by a lawyer; the majority of its members were business men. Drys claimed they represented the petroleum and liquor interests. The Tavern and Hotel Association supported the wets as did the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The League of Young Democrats favored the special election but claimed neutrality on the issue. The Associating of Law Enforcement Officers in the state called for repeal or better enforcement of the law. A convention committee of the state Chamber of Commerce passed a recommendation calling for sale of liquor by the drink. The backers of this motion were hotel and tavern owners.
  2. See Odegard, op. cit., passim. Also Charles Merz, The Dry Decade, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., 1932; Luke Ebersole, Church Lobbying in the Nation's Capital, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1951; Wayne B. Wheeler, The Inside Story of Prohibition, The New York Times, March 29, 1926, The Anti-Saloon League of America, The Anti-Saloon Year-Book, Westerville, Ohio, Columbus, Chicago, 1909-1931; Jackman and Sherif, 1959.



Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2