A history lesson

So, some really cool research tells us what we’ve always known, but puts some great quantitative analysis.  The Democrats eventually lost the Republican party to the South over white racism.  Drum has a nice summary:

But a couple of researchers recently found some: Gallup poll data starting in the late 50s that asks if you’d be willing to vote for a qualified presidential candidate who happened to be black. Respondents who answered no were coded (quite reasonably) as racially conservative. They then looked at differences between the Democratic Party ID of Southern whites who were and weren’t racially conservative. Here’s their conclusion:

We find that except for issues involving racial integration and discrimination, whites in the South and elsewhere have indistinguishable preferences on both domestic and foreign policy in the 1950s….We find no evidence that white Southerners who have negative views of women, Catholics or Jews differentially leave the Democratic party in 1963; the exodus is specific to those who are racially conservative. Finally, we
find no role for Southern economic development in explaining dealignment.

So: why did Democrats lose the white South? For the reason common sense and all the evidence suggests: because the party became too liberal on civil rights, and racist white Southerners didn’t like it. Southern white flight from the party began in the 1940s, took a sharp dive in the early 60s, and continued to decline for several decades after as Democrats became ever more committed to black equality. This might not be the only reason for Southern realignment, but it’s surely the most important by a long stretch. [emphasis mine]

For more on both this study and the Southern Strategy of the Nixon era, Wonkblog’s Max Ehrenfreund has you covered.

So, does this mean all white Southern Republicans are racist?  Of course not.  Does it mean that white racism and racial resentment played a critical role in the South realigning from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican?  Absolutely.



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

5 Responses to A history lesson

  1. rgbact says:

    Um, gun control. Um, abortion. Um, gay marriage. Certain places are more socially conservative, than fiscally.

    But I hope coastal liberals never stop calling southerners racist. Its a real votegetter.

  2. r. jenrette says:

    The gun issue could be part of this too. Racists’ hates and fears create support for gun “rights”.

  3. ohwilleke says:

    “does this mean all white Southern Republicans are racist? Of course not.”

    The extent to which white Southern Republicans (especially men) are monolithic and united is pretty stunning. There isn’t a unanimous racist sentiment, but it is well North of 80% based upon the data I’ve seen over the years.

    • Jon K says:

      80% seems absolutely nuts as an estimate. your definition of racist must be different than mine. racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

      that isn’t the same as holding some ignorant views, or having little understanding of a culture that is different from yours, or unconscious bias. also having a negative view towards programs like affirmative action doesn’t necessarily make someone a racist. Just read all the things Clarence Thomas has had hurled at him from his fellow African Americans (even if you don’t count the Anita Hill stuff and just focus on the racial stuff). both sides like identity politics way to much.

      yes from a historical perspective it is clear that race was a key factor in the switch of many southern democrats to the republican party. that isn’t news – the southern strategy nixon used has been widely acknowledged and studied for years. For many years the democratic party was rooted largely in the south and fought against reconstruction. in fact, that party had control of NC state politics for most of the period from the end of reconstruction until the recent GOP takeover. NC may have been trending more GOP for congress but the state government was all democrat and all gold ol boy networks and corruption for a long time.

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