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How Much Did Hitler’s Speeches Really Help The Nazis?

Adolf Hitler was renowned for his persuasiveness as a speaker. “Here was a born natural orator,” wrote future Irish ambassador to Berlin Daniel Binchy after seeing Hitler speak in 1921. “He began slowly, almost hesitatingly, stumbling over the construction of his sentences, correcting his dialect pronunciation. Then all at once he seemed to take fire.”

Reporting from Germany, Hearst correspondent Karl von Wiegand was “struck by Hitler’s oratorical skills and his ability to whip people into a frenzy,” Jennie Rothenberg Gritz wrote in The Atlantic in 2012.

And even in 2014, Bill Etheridge, a British Member of the European Parliament and a member of the far-right UKIP party, called Hitler a “magnetic and forceful public speaker who achieved a great deal.”

Yet according to new research published in the American Political Science Review, Hitler’s supposed prowess as a speaker may not have really helped the Nazis ascend to power. As Peter Selb and Simon Munzert write in the abstract for their paper on the subject, “Our findings suggest that Hitler’s speeches, while rationally targeted, had a negligible impact on the Nazis’ electoral fortunes.”

“Only the 1932 presidential runoff, an election preceded by an extraordinarily short, intense, and one-sided campaign, yielded positive effects.”

As Newsweek reports, Selb and Munzert’s work relied on an analysis of Germany’s parliamentary and presidential elections — five of the former, one of the latter — between 1927 and 1933, a period during which the Nazis consolidated power. The pair examined electoral trends across Germany, and, per Newsweek, “found that Hitler’s public appearances, for the most-part, did not have an observable impact on election results around the country.”

Selb and Munzert told Newsweek that their findings upheld the idea that “economic and political circumstances” played a much bigger role in the Nazi accrual of power than did Hitler’s powers as an orator.

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