When Did Democrats Lose the South?

After Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he turned to his aide and declared that now we “have lost the South for a generation.” This quip is often recited in the stories we are told of the Democrats’ loss of the South, which is thereby traced directly to regional divergence over race relations. Given how strongly this belief is held, it is based on surprisingly shaky foundations. If we pay attention to the actual vote share of the Democrats by state, a different pattern emerges. The loss of the South turns out to be much more recent than advertised.

Here we look at the difference between the vote share of the Democratic Party in Presidential Elections in the 17 Southern states and the rest of the union (“North”). It may come as a shock that the Democrats had a higher vote share in the South than in the North in both the 1976 and the 1980 election. And it was not until the 2000s that a decisive bias against the South emerged.

when-did-dems-lose-south.png

A similar picture emerges if we use electoral college weights.

ec-dems-south.png

These numbers make the traditional explanation for the loss of the South suspect. For if it was the 1964 Civil Rights Act, then why did Democrats have a higher vote share in the South as late as 1980? Since the loss of the South is much more recent, it must have a different explanation.

I have been tracking the rise of Boasian antiracism. It is again much more recent than we were told. We can see this by looking at Google Ngram for any number of Boasian antiracist buzzwords. They all show a similar diachronic pattern. Although high racialism began to decline in the 1970s, the rise of Boasian antiracism is definitely a story of the 1990s.

racially insensitive.png

racial diversity.pngmulticulturalism.pngpc.png

The Democrats’ loss of the South occurred shortly after the rise of Boasian antiracism. I believe this relationship is causal. Specifically, the rise of Boasian antiracism as the hegemonic ideology of the elite played an important role in the realignment. The reason for this is that as Boasian antiracism spread across elite culture, it got re-purposed to signal status. And precisely because Boasian antiracism emerged from the bowels of prestige schools recently, it is still sharply confined to the elite. The working classes experienced this discourse of elite self-congratulation as a form of class oppression. And it wasn’t simply perception. One can detect a rising tide of elite contempt — this is precisely when the offensive term “flyover country” takes off.

flyover country.png

The “culture wars” too take off around the same time. We must see this discourse as a counter-movement to the rise of Boasian antiracism.

culture wars.png

And although the signal is not as clean, the term “coastal elites” increases in frequency around the same time.

coastal elites.png

It is no coincidence then that elite-mass relations broke down in the early-1990s. For Boasian antiracism was not simply a convenient ideology of inclusion serving as a discourse of self-congratulation. It also served as a fig leaf for a one-sided class war. Indeed, it is in the 1990s that neoliberalism became hegemonic.

neoliberal.png

What seems to have happened is this: Social democracy capitulated upwards in the early-1990s. American elites abandoned custody of working class interests and adopted the seemingly benign ideology of multicultural inclusion. The working class was thus stuck by an assault on two fronts. Not only did their incomes stop growing altogether and their jobs become more precarious. Their very language and their whole worldview began to be seen increasingly as racist and bigoted. They migrated increasingly to the “wrong” party — one hell-bent on fleecing them even more — because the “right” party denied them dignity and self-respect. This interpretation thus resolves the long-standing puzzle noted by Thomas Frank in 2004 — What’s the matter with Kansas?

The recency of Boasian antiracism has yet to be digested. The fact of recency is not known to Boasian antiracists. So it is no surprise that they can’t see the breakdown of elite-mass relations for what it is. For if we have “all” been antiracist since the antisystemic turn, if not Auschwitz, then the only reason those people still haven’t gotten the memo is because they don’t want to hear it — they’re just bigots.

But it is not just the fact of recency that is not known. Boasian antiracism is barely aware of itself. This is of course true of any hegemonic ideology — it simply disappears from view. The pattern of your thoughts and behavior (“Trump supporters: swipe right”) seem not in the grip of some ideology, but utterly right and proper. The lack of self-awareness of Boasian antiracism also explains a curious puzzle: Why did no one stumble upon the tight relationship between deaths of despair and the Trump swing? Why did it take a blogger (me) to discover it? Why did no one getting paid to do this kind of stuff even bother to look? This is, after all, public data. The answer is clear. Elite number crunchers are as much in the grip of Boasian antiracism as Brooklyn hipsters. To both it seemed perfectly obvious that White racial resentment explained 2016 — clearly only a bigot would vote for Donald Trump.

An interesting question for the future is find out precisely when people began to believe that Democrats lost the South because of the Civil Rights Act. For Nixon’s election had more to do with Vietnam than race relations and everyone knew that then. And Democrats could not have failed to notice that Carter did better in the South than the rest of the country. I would not be surprised to find that the idea gained currency as late as the 2000s, when the pattern finally becomes undeniable.


Bonus. The following maps reveal the evolution of electoral geography.

dem-1976dem-1980dem-1984dem-1988dem-1992dem-1996dem-2000dem-2004dem-2008dem-2012dem-2016


Postscript. The recency of the loss of the South to the Democrats is even more obvious from Senate election data. The systematic bias against Democrats in the South obtained in earnest only in the 2000s. It is no coincidence that Thomas Frank is writing in 2004.

Senator.png


Post-postscript. The Gingrich Revolution is quite striking. The Reagan-Bush gains in the South are not matched by GOP senators. The jump in the 1994 election is extraordinary. Recall that The Bell Curve appeared in that year. It’s controversial reception was the sign of a new disciplinary force on the scene. It’s this disciplinary force that made the new GOP playbook viable. The irony is that what Murray was saying in the The Bell Curve was that poor Whites are poor because they are stupid. In the same year, GOP strategists figured out how to mine the new predicament to gain a stranglehold on the White working class vote and the South.

together.png

Economic explanations suffer from a fatal flaw. Economic distress should push you towards the more progressive party. Yet, we see the opposite. The big question is why we see this striking pattern. Why are they voting for the “wrong” party? The answer suggested by this analyst is that the “right” party has denied them dignity and respect. “It’s the contempt, stupid!”


Post-post-postscript. More charts. What is really striking about the national pattern is (1) the systematic disadvantage of the Democrats because of the electoral college system, and (2) Obama’s thumping performance in 2008. I had not realized until now just how significant that election was to Democrat fortunes. (Clinton’s 1992 victory was tempered by Perot’s third-party candidacy — he took 12 percent of the vote.) The fall from 2008 has been quite dramatic in both population-weighted and electoral-college weighted terms.

Dem-share.png

Looking at regions. These are the vote shares in different regions. It was the Midwest, culturally part of Greater New England, that delivered Obama’s thumping majority.

regional-dem-total.png

But deviations from the national share are more revealing. In the northeastern stronghold, the electoral college system works to the Democrats’ advantage. The Democrats’ disadvantage in the West is even more pronounced than the South. The 1980 election was a total catastrophe in the West. But even in more recent elections, the Dems’ disadvantage has been dramatically larger than that in the South. And it is even more pronounced in electoral college terms. If Democrats want to change the political map, they must make deep inroads beyond their strongholds in the big blue states.

regional-dem-share.png

23 thoughts on “When Did Democrats Lose the South?

  1. Hello Anusar,

    Your data analysis is interesting, as always. But I see it more as measuring effect rather than assigning causation. Historically I see the South being lost to the Democrats with the independent candidacy of Strom Thurmond under the States’ Rights Democratic Party in 1948. It was another 16 years before LBJ went all in on urban politics. The South is agrarian and traditional, as was the Democratic Party for most of its history. That shifted in the 1960s and by 1972 the crossover was complete with the McGovernites. (The South is still agrarian and traditional and Nixon’s Southern Strategy was merely a recognition of the fact that these votes were up for grabs. Securing the South was the only way for RMN to counter the Dem’s urban policy strategy.)

    What you describe as Boasian anti-racism seems to be this narrative adopted urban by intellectual elites that represents their progressive cosmopolitan ideology. I think from a causal standpoint this may put the cart before the horse. Remember, the longest serving Senator in US history, a Democrat, did not seem to suffer from his leadership in the KKK, but was certainly an embarrassment for the newly ‘woke’ generation of Democrats.

    I find the geographic, economic, and cultural explanations far more historically robust than the ideological narratives that adapt to the times. In fact, I’d say antiracism is a justification for the wholesale narrative of urban politics these days under so many multicultural and disparate identity groups. It’s a very fragile coalition that constantly demands a more unifying theme. The “deplorables” is just one of those themes. Racism is another – it made perfect sense during the Civil Rights era and was long overdue (it was also embraced by northern Republicans previous to LBJ’s Great Society urban agenda). Not so sure it makes much political sense today. And MAGA has arisen to challenge it.

  2. The shift from 1980 to 1984 is so abrupt that I think it’s implausible to explain based on ideological change within liberalism; it seems more likely to me that something about Reagan’s actions during his first term convinced Southerners that Republicans were on their side more so than Democrats.

    1. Yes, but look at it this way. Reagan evoked Barry Goldwater – he was a Goldwater Republican and his campaign made it clear. The South had also backed Jimmy Carter as a conservative Georgian Southern Baptist, but his policies moved strongly toward left-of-center liberalism, which his Southern voters viewed as a betrayal, especially his stance towards religious schools. They moved en masse to Reagan.

      Reagan’s strategist Lee Atwater was also a Southerner who knew how to appeal to that constituency. He recognized the power of mega churches and televangelism to deliver a political message every Sunday morning to an audience the Democrats could only envy. Karl Rove adopted the same strategy for GWB.

      Meanwhile, Democratic strategists were attacking all of this in favor of what we describe here as Boasian antiracism.

      This is merely shifting the narrative to fit the traditional, religious agrarian South vs. the post-industrial, urban North. So the parties flipped, but their geographical constituents remained pretty much the same in their policy preferences and cultural narratives.

      1. But why the shift between 1980 and 1984? I had always though of the results of those two elections as similar, but according to this data it looks like those lopsided electoral maps obscured major regional shifts in vote totals.

        Is it simply because the democratic candidate in 1980 was a moderate from the South?

        Or is it because Lee Atwater advised Reagan’s campaign in 1984 but not in 1980?

        1. Well, I’m only guessing here, but during Reagan’s first term his national popularity soared after the recession’s recovery got under way and after he was shot. He and Thatcher were hailed as the saviors of the West. Was it a MAGA moment (a Shining City on a Hill)? I suppose the anti-racism charges against the South had an effect, but I suspect they merely fell upon receptive ears rather than changing anything. As I remember this was when liberalism becomes the unmentionable “L” word, followed by abysmal election efforts by Mondale and Dukakis. Also, the televangelists went all in on Reagan during that time, so the messaging was pretty heavy.

          Perhaps we’re quibbling here, but I fail to see a decisive infection point concerning what I see as a generational shift in the South. Those maps are determined at the margins of voting preferences, no?

          1. There was definitely a gradual generational shift taking place — South-Less-North doesn’t max out until 2004 — but the chart also seems to show a fairly decisive regional swing between 1980 and 1984. It might help to see data from 1972 and earlier to see how much that jump sticks out from the overall trend.

            1. It’s interesting to see how the electoral maps change or don’t change over the past 2 centuries rather than just in the modern era. Because I studied this history in trying to assess red v. blue polarization and also as a political scientist and economist, I tend to see US politics in that long historical perspective. What was very interesting about the EC results is that the 1896 and 2004 maps show almost the exact same state break out, but the parties are reversed. Most laypersons think polarization started in 2000, when it probably started about two centuries earlier. Racism (i.e., slavery) explains some of it, but not the bulk of it.

              1. Tired interpretations. William Jennings Bryan was not a populist. He was a lackey of the mining interests, who successfully defeated the Populists singlehandedly and placed him at the head of the electoral challenge. Of course, the late-nineteenth century breakdown of the party system is echoed by the present impasse. Although it is hard to see the return of “normalcy” as we did in 1896.

                1. I think that criticism is half-valid, but the agrarian populists were aligned with the mining interests, along with mid-western banks against Eastern banking interests on the monetary issues. I’m not sure it’s helpful to consider his populism tainted by that. All populists have their particular powerbase to consider on which they build their voter support, no? They all kind of coalesce on the salient issues, which are usually economic. I think we can get side-tracked by how we choose to define populism.

                  What’s confusing about American politics is that sectoral interests cut across class interests, but in most cases sectoral interests prevail. Workers align with the interests that put food on their table, especially over trade and currency mgmt. Sanders battles with that because he is a pure class warrior. ID politics also weakens his class coalition.

                  1. Identity politics is White elites projecting their discourse of self-congratulation onto the shoulders of colored allies. It’s not identity politics, it’s Boasian antiracism.

                    The working class hasn’t voted for its economic interests in a long, long time. They have been voting for the “wrong” party because they feel unwelcome in the “right” one. “It’s the contempt, stupid!”

                    1. I’m not sure there’s a “right” or “wrong” party for American working class voters today, especially over the last 50 years. Right now they’re voting for trade protection, controlled immigration, and US manufacturing. That makes economic sense for their immediate needs.

                    2. Are you for real? You think voting for the GOP is in the economic interest of the working classes?

                    3. Okay, I guess you’ve decided to be partisan in your analysis. My point was that they don’t have a “party” representing their interests – either Democrat or Republican or Green. NONE of these parties have focused on the working class or, in more recent years, the bourgeois middle class. So the data show they voted for the guy who voiced the policies that addressed their most immediate concerns. That doesn’t mean those policies will be confirmed, just like the policy promises to outlaw abortion or protect their livelihoods. I don’t know what you want to attribute this to, but if this is a partisan blog trying to advance an interpretative agenda, I’m gone. Let the data speak. Certainly you’re not under some delusion that the Democratic Party is the party of the working class?!?

  3. All of this data and information should have been at least some what obvious to anyone who as taken even a survey level Modern American History class. Sadly though it probably isn’t. I saw this realignment happen in real time with my own family. I was always interested in politics at a fairly young age (say starting in 4th – 5th grade, even if I did not always understand much or even most of what was going on…). The first election I got to actually vote in was 1980. I remember my dad and his brothers talking about politics quite a bit. My dad’s family was from the South (Oklahoma and Arkansas) and remember him and all his family being staunch Democrats, the whole FDR was for the “working man” and The Republicans were all for the “Rich”. That all changed somewhere during the Carter Administration. They did not like Carter’s weakness (perceived or otherwise…) towards the Soviet Union, they did not like his refusal to help the Shah Of Iran and his eventual abandonment. They did not like his helplessness during the hostage crisis, and the did not like his abysmal economic record. They were very receptive to Reagan’s message of hope and renewal. None of this had anything to do with race. My dad was the first of his family to convert, but slowly, over the course of Carters 4 years, they all abandoned the D party, (at least for one cycle, as a test. But eventually, just about that whole side of the family is now Republican.) The 1964 Civil Rights Act had nothing to do with it.

    I would like to ask you, why do you believe that the Democratic Party is the “right” party for the working class and the Republican “Party” the wrong party? You have mentioned this formula or brought up the idea several times, but have never really offered any justification for it. Is it based purely on economic interests, (the Thomas Frank argument)? I can remember when Republican voters used to be described as “pocket book” voters, i.e, they really only voted for their own economic self interest. And that was intended as sort of slur or defamatory remark about them, as if they didn’t really care about other more important “social” issues, such as Women’s Rights or Affirmative Action programs….but now the problem seems to be that they are not “pocket book” voters enough? Can you not understand that these people might understand where their own economic self interests lie better than you and Thomas Frank? Or that maybe they may value “other” interests and issues more importantly than you think should be warranted? I am genuinely interested. You seem like a very smart guy, and I think that this may be a blind spot for you, to have such a closed and sure thing idea about this.

    1. Thank you. I appreciate your comments. I am advocating the opposite of an economic incentives model. I am saying it is cultural. There is a historic cultural class war, an offensive from above, so to speak. The rise of Boasian antiracism was lived as a discourse of class oppression — ‘white trash’, ‘deplorables’, ‘flyover country’.

    2. That’s a decent anecdotal narrative. My response to Thomas Frank has always been, “What’s the matter with Connecticut?” The problem I see is drawing a really broad brush with cultural change as a explanation for sudden shifts in politics. Sharkfin’s explanation is reflective of a political shift in policy from rural to urban interests by Democrats and some of the reverse by Republicans, but the observance is characterized as Carter vs. Reagan. My question is why didn’t urban Democrats shift to Reagan like they did in the South?

      The “South” is probably far too broad a brush in the post-70s period because we can see that urban counties in the South have remained staunchly Democrat. In fact the entire EC map is deceiving as the divide is monotonic by population density of counties, not by state. And the county divisions are only partly by race. With the massive influx of non-white immigrants over the past 30 years, this relationship is becoming more jumbled. But the non-white residents I know in OK all vote conservative Republican. I expect it is true for many rural Hispanic communities too.

      What you refer to as Boasian anti-racism (btw, can you offer your succinct definition of the term as I am unfamiliar with it?) seems really more of a superstructural overlay of diverging economic interests ala Immanuel Wallerstein’s class analysis of race in politics. Issues of race and creed appeal to the emotions, which can be overt and vocal, while economic interests are more submerged. So political parties appeal to their emotions to define and secure their constituencies. In the age of information these cultural issues have become more politically salient, but I still see it as a lot of hand-waving. I found that regressing race and female heads of household against a dichotomous vote for D or R showed that the black race was completely subsumed by female heads of household and population density in their voting preferences for Democrats. (Obama certainly skewed this, but that was the anomaly.)

      One can possibly conflate race with culture by defining racism more accurately as cultural antipathy, especially when applied to non-black, non-white populations. Frankly, I don’t see a lot of overt racism in America today, but I do see a lot of growing cultural antipathy. Granted, I live in the big city, which yields a biased observation. But I do see a different lived experience by immigrants who settle in rural communities and small cities vs. those who head for major metros.

      1. Dear Michael,
        I picked up the term Boasian antiracism from Proctor (2003), “Three Roots of Recency” (https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/346029). There the context was how Boasian antiracism had structured the debate in paleoanthropology. Brilliant paper. It led to my tentative incursion into the intellectual history of paleoanthropology (https://www.researchgate.net/…/329660028_Paleoanthropology_…). But the story Proctor tells of Boasian antiracism is wrong. As I discovered, the 1950 UNESCO Statement on Race is a false dawn. Boasian antiracism was marginal until the anti-systemic turn, and in no way hegemonic until the 1990s, if not even later. So that was my discovery of the Recency of Boasian antiracism itself. Initially, I was interested in neoracialism; particularly on the question of population variation in IQ scores. What I discovered was that IQ is just a measure of health status; that population differences in IQ track other measures of health status. (https://policytensor.com/…/cognitive-test-scores-measure-n…/) Later still, I waded into peak high racialism at midcentury (https://policytensor.com/…/climate-and-world-order-revisit…/). But it was not until I attended the annual shoulder-rub of the physical anthropologists that I discovered the lived reality of the Anthropology Wars at the losing end. (https://policytensor.com/…/notes-on-the-anthropology-wars-…/)

        Through all these investigations what began to come into view was the hegemonic ideology of the West. So I’ve been engaged in a bit of archaeology of the recent past. Part of the reason why it took so long to uncover the basic story is the thickness of the discourse of Boasian antiracism itself. I can feel the strength of the discourse is my own thinking and writing.

        I wouldn’t say everyday folk are high racialist. I don’t think they ever were. Even at its peak, high racialism was an elite discourse. It surely enabled vulgar racism. But it was very much a business of the sharpest knives in the drawer. The epicenter was Harvard Anthropology, and Columbia Anthropology was the home of the resistance. In general, Anthropology is absolutely at the front and center of this intellectual history. The question is how these elite discourses shaped elite-mass relations in American culture through the modern era. I have tried to take a stab at that for the present impasse. (https://policytensor.com/…/what-in-the-name-of-the-lord-is…/) My latest dispatch establishes the recency of the Democrats’ loss of the South (https://policytensor.com/2019/11/05/when-did-democrats-lose-the-south/). It was not the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that handed the South to the GOP. It was the rise of Boasian antiracism.

        Put simply, Boasian antiracism is the hegemonic ideology of Western elites. It became more than a benign ideology of inclusion for it morphed into a discourse of self-congratulation and status signaling (mistakenly called ‘virtue signalling’). It is perceived by the working classes as a language of class oppression (‘flyover country’, ‘white trash’ take off around the same time). It is recent (became dominant only in the 1990s), emerged from prestige schools, specifically cultural anthropology at Columbia, and remains confined largely to the college-educated, ie the social/cultural elite. Because the grip of Boasian antiracism is so strong, no one bothered to question the consensus on White racial anxiety as the cause of 2016. It took a blogger (me) three years after the fact to uncover the tight relationship between deaths of despair and the Trump phenomena. Why didn’t the Nates of the world uncover these facts some time in 2016-2019?

        My thesis clears up another significant puzzle. As I noted in the last dispatch: «What seems to have happened is this: Social democracy capitulated upwards in the early-1990s. American elites abandoned custody of working class interests and adopted the seemingly benign ideology of multicultural inclusion. The working class was thus stuck by an assault on two fronts. Not only did their incomes stop growing altogether and their jobs become more precarious. Their very language and their whole worldview began to be seen increasingly as racist and bigoted. They migrated increasingly to the “wrong” party — one hell-bent on fleecing them even more — because the “right” party denied them dignity and self-respect. This interpretation thus resolves the long-standing puzzle noted by Thomas Frank in 2004 — What’s the matter with Kansas?»

        1. Could you please explain what you mean by “catapulted upwards” in this sentence? I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around what you’re trying to say. — “Social democracy capitulated upwards in the early-1990s.”

          1. Hi Laura,

            In my understanding, the neoliberal counterrevolution, although the irreversible moves had come under Carter, was only consummated in the early-1990s, when social democracy adopted the rhetoric and understandings of neoliberalism. This involved more than a diagnostic and ideological shift in elite perceptions — it required a class realignment. The abandonment of the custody of working class interests reflected the emergence of an alliance of the upper classes; more precisely, an alliance of the social elite (the college-educated) and the financial elite (the rich). One of the core alliances of midcentury social democracy was between the working class and the social democratic bourgeois; ie, the masses and the social elite. That was abandoned. Social democracy capitulated upwards and adopted the discourse of Boasian antiracism. That’s why the Democratic Party is a coalition of the college-educated and racialized minorities.

  4. I appreciate this thoughtful engagement of an important question and the examination of evidence about it. Yet, though I found this article interesting (and I certainly think the prevalence of urban cosmopolitan disdain for white middle Americans is a big part of the Gingrich revolt and later GOP framing), the overall data and narrative don’t seem convincing.

    The starting point should be based on looking at the presidential map before and after 1964. (Available here: https://www.270towin.com/historical-presidential-elections/)

    The Old South is reliably Democrat from 1876 (end of Reconstruction) to 1960. Then it immediately and durably becomes reliably Republican in 1964. It is pretty hard to not notice this pattern.

    The other really important thing to talk about is what was expressed by the people living that history themselves. Lyndon Johnson was no dummy about the opinions and political behavior of Southern Americans. He was deeply embedded in Southern politics and used it to propel himself up the political ladder for his whole career. No on retroactively invented the theory that the Civil Rights Act lost the South to the Democrats; Johnson self-consciously named it at the time. And his prediction turned about to be more than true. The Democrats lost the Old South presidential vote for MORE than a generation afterwards and still hasn’t regained it.

    Moreover the other political actors at the time interpreted the situation the same way. 1968 sees a huge chunk of the Old South abandon the Democrats for a pro-segregation third party candidate George Wallace. Nixon’s own team self-consciously described their “Southern Strategy” as using racial resentment in the South (and elsewhere in the country) to turn people away from the Democrats and towards him.

    Finally, if you don’t believe me, ask Black voters, who starting in 1964, began voting for Democratic presidents at greater than 80% and have done so ever since. At the exact moment when white Southerns abandon the Democratic Party, Black voters (across the country) flocked to it. In fact I would wager that if you look at the shift in voting patterns from 1964 onward disaggregated by race, you would see an even starker shift among Southern Whites than is apparent in the overall map.

    My point is that everyone starting in 1964 and onward knew that the Civil Rights Act (and related civil rights actions) drove white Southerners away from the Democratic Party and (eventually) towards the Republican Party, and drove Black Americans toward the Democratic Party: white Southerners knew (and publicly stated it), Black Americans knew and stated it, and other white politicians who were courting white southern votes knew and acted on it. The idea that this idea was made up during the culture wars of the 90’s seems to border on a conspiracy theory. Did LBJ, George Wallace, MLK, and Richard Nixon all just pretend they saw civil rights as upending the regional alignment of the parties?

    Having said all this I think it’s important to address two counter arguments you raise:

    1) The only exception to the pattern of Republican allegiance in the Old South in the over 50 years since the 1964 election, is 1976, Jimmy Carter’s election. That’s only 1 in 14 elections that defy the pattern. So the pattern is pretty clear. Beyond that this was the first election after Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. It seems pretty clear this was an anomaly, linked heavily to the events of Watergate. One can also quibble about how “solid” the south was in e.g. the Clinton years, but it was still clearly the stronghold of Republican presidential votes in those years, even if there was some chipping away, when Democrats fielded a Southerner as a candidate.

    2) There just isn’t a lot of evidence to support your claim of Vietnam as the factor that has defined the South’s switch to Republican. The South is reliably more hawkish than the rest of the country (and has been for most of the nation’s history). I don’t have this data handy, but I’d be willing to bet that the Vietnam war was more unpopular in the urban and liberal enclaves, than it was in the rural areas of the South. Moreover the issue of Vietnam had long faded from being a primary determinant of presidential votes by the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, but the pattern of the Republican South stayed the same.

    Finally to engage the core data you marshall to support your argument:

    Your metric of “Democratic vote share in the north vs in the south” doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. On a small technical note, population migration into and between the US regions creates a lot of noise in the data.

    But my big point is that comparing the South to the North is less important than comparing the South to itself over time. The basic reason is that the while the South had a large block of voters who were reliably resistant to civil rights (and after civil rights who reliably expressed a lot of racial resentment), the North has had much more ambivalent attitudes on race over time.

    The question of how the Dems in the South stack up against the Dems in the North would be more insightful as a metric, if we assumed that the North was an anti-racist monolith. But even tracing back to the creation of the Republican Party in the 1850’s, this wasn’t the case. Back then the South was a pro-slavery monolith, but (contrary to a lot of oversimplified history) the north was not its racial mirror image. Most of the northerners who flocked to the Republican Party did not do so because of abolitionist sentiment and many of those in the Union were overt and aggressive white supremacists, while others were indifferent to the rights of black Americans, but hostile to the expansion of slavery.

    So you had a two very different coalitions: an aggressively pro-slavery block in the South, and a “mixed bag on race” block in the North. Moving forward in time you will find a parallel pattern on integration and the civil rights movement, (and then after that on topics like identity politics and political correctness.) The political structure of the Old South was monolithically hostile to civil rights and integration and defensive of the Jim Crow order. But the Old North, was not monolithically pro-civil rights or integration. Instead, in the North, you had large constituencies who were promoters of civil rights, were indifferent to civil rights, and who were hostile to blacks in a variety of forms.

    So the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 didn’t make it so everyone just switched parties overnight. But it (very demonstrably) did lead to a large scale abandonment of the Democratic Party at the national level by the South.

    To see that abandonment you have to look at the voting patterns of the Southerners themselves (and specifically among white Southerners), and not at the North-South comparison.

    Thanks again for engaging an interesting subject and curious to hear your response.

  5. I just want to note that one potential reason for the abrupt shift in 1984 is that the candidate, Walter Mondale, is ineluctably linked to his signature achievement, the Fair Housing Act, which banned (more actually made a bit more difficult) discrimination in housing.

    I am not sure if this can be discussed in terms of Boasian antiracism, largely because I have not seen the concept before, and so am not clear on what is being described here.

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