If Harvard picked the president, half the men who have occupied the Oval Office in the past 128 years never would have made it to the White House.The post-WWII Harvard student body was very disproportionately Jewish: "At least 19 percent of Harvard freshmen enrolling in the class of 1946 were Jewish. Between 1950 and 1970 the percentage of Jewish students at Harvard and Columbia would be well in the 20 percent bracket, averaging 25 percent during the two decades." The shift left at Harvard also followed an increased emphasis on "meritocracy" that led to fewer students from the old Protestant upper class:
According to records of Harvard straw polls over The Crimson’s 139-year history, the winner of the poll at Harvard—this year, Barack Obama by a wide margin—has won the real thing only 50 percent of the time. [. . .]
Over that time, the political views of the student body have shifted along with—and sometimes against—the tides of history. Harvard picked Republicans—the party of Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt, Class of 1880, but also of losing contenders like Charles Evan Hughes—in every contest from 1884 to World War II, save 1912. In that year, as the Republican Party split its vote between incumbent President William Howard Taft and Roosevelt, who decided four years after his term ended that he had not had enough of the presidency, Democrat Woodrow Wilson managed to take the most Crimson votes. The same phenomenon occurred on a national level.
Even the Harvard pedigree of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Class of 1904 and a president of The Harvard Crimson, was insufficient to take the top of The Crimson’s poll. As the rest of the country voted overwhelmingly for Roosevelt, the student body picked Herbert Hoover—the man hated nationwide for supposedly bringing on the scourge of the Great Depression—then Alfred M. Landon and Wendell Willkie, all by significant margins. Clearly, economic woes dogged the Harvard voter far less than the ordinary election-goer. [. . .]
In 1960, a Democrat won the poll by an absolute majority for the first time: Harvard alumnus and youth favorite John F. Kennedy ’40.
Harvard was not, the Rollo Book insisted, "a rich-man's college": "More than half of the students earn a significant part of their college expenses and about thirty per cent receive financial aid from the College in the form of scholarships, beneficiary aid, or loans." [. . .]The New Deal coalition:
Despite the shift in rhetoric, change in Harvard's actual practices came only gradually. Nevertheless, Bender's accession to the chairmanship of the Committee on Admission and on Scholarships and Financial Aids did produce some identifiable shifts in the character of the student body. In his first year in office, Bender raised incoming freshman median scores on the SAT from 583 to 609 on the verbal section and 598 to 625 on the mathematical section. At the same time, the percentage of entering freshmen from private schools declined from 52 percent in 1952 to 47 percent in 1953. This was the first time in Harvard's peacetime history that public school graduates outnumbered private school graduates. [. . .]
By 1957, faculty power had been rising for over a decade, and faculty members everywhere sought to apply more meritocratic standards in selecting undergraduates. That fall, their efforts received a powerful boost from an unexpected source when, on Octorber 4, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. [. . .]
Harvard's scientists seized the opportunity to increase pressure on the Admission Office. [. . .]
As the Admission and Scholarship Committee convened in the spring of 1958 to conduct the annual business of selection, it faced heavy pressure -- from an increasingly assertive faculty, from applicants empowered by knowing their SAT scores, and from the growing national obsession with scientific brilliance -- to give greater weight to scholastic talent than ever before. The freshmen who enrolled that fall showed every sign of being the strongest class academically in Harvard's history. In one year, median combined SATs had risen by 50 points, from 1285 to 1335 -- the second-largest increase ever recorded at Harvard. [. . .] In a related trend, the number of students from public schools reached an all-time high of 54 percent [. . .] -- a development that could only be welcomed by faculty calling for more meritocracy. [. . .]
Bender had hit on a central dilemma: in a changing society, would Harvard be best served by continuing to favor the children of the upper class or should it attach itself to a potentially rising class of academically talented boys from the nation's public schools? "Are we interested in keeping Harard an institution which will be socially acceptable for young gentlemen to attend?" he asked. "Or are young gentlemen a vanishing rose and would we be better off without them?" How the Special Committee answered these questions would reveal a great deal about Harvard's strategy for maintaining its preeminence in a world in which the Protestant upper class was already losing its hegemony.
[Jerome Karabel. The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale . . .]
The New Deal coalition [. . .] united the many enemies of the old Puritan ethic: Catholic immigrants, Jewish intellectuals, southern gentlemen, black sharecroppers, Appalachian mountain folk, Texas stockmen and California hedonists.
The various groups who supported Roosevelt all believed that the national government should play a larger economic role.