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The new solid South

Writing for the New York Times’ The Upshot, Nate Cohn drapes an impressive fever chart over his review of the demise of Democratic fortunes in the South.

In 1960, Democrats held every U.S. Senate seat, every governor’s mansion and control of both houses in every legislature in the combined states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. And that one-party domination had been pretty much continuous since Reconstruction.

If, as expected, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu loses the runoff in Louisiana Saturday, Republicans will control all of those offices in all of those states. The transition has been sharp and steady. Cohn does a great summary of how it happened and why. Landrieu, Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Michelle Nunn in Georgia represented the last few cases of candidates who came from families with once-popular names and who were still able to survive as Democrats. But until history decides what it is going to do next, that tale is told. The old blue solid South is now the new red solid South.

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/05/2014 - 12:41 pm.

    It’s hardly a startling revelation– it merely points out that the demographic that voted for the old Democratic party of the south votes for the new Republican part of the south. The parties affiliation may have switched, but the attitudes haven’t.

    From the article:


    But white support for Republicans in the South might rival, or in some places even exceed, white support for Democrats during the Solid South. In the November election, Ms. Landrieu received only 18 percent of the white vote, according to the exit polls, a figure nearly identical to the 19 percent of the vote that Republicans averaged in the state’s presidential elections from 1880 through 1948. The exit polls showed that Mr. Obama won 14 percent of white voters in Louisiana in 2008.

    (end quote)

    18 vs 19%–ho-hum, that’s no real difference.

    14 vs 19%–gosh, I don’t know why there could be fewer southern white voters for a black presidential candidate, do you?

    Seems to be a “sun rises in the east” type story.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/05/2014 - 01:28 pm.

    Sure you don’t mean

    the ‘red and white solid South’?
    History’s next chapter may be entitled ‘Demographics’.

  3. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/05/2014 - 02:03 pm.

    Civil Rights Act

    The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. Forty years later, Dems still held a majority of offices (per the chart in the article). Ten years later, they’re almost gone. I think maybe we shouldn’t overstate the impact of the Civil Rights Act then. After all, contra LBJ, it clearly *didn’t* lose the south for the Dems.

    It is an interesting article but the trends that Cohn is talking about is hardly limited to the south. Dem numbers with whites (especially blue collar whites) has been steadily eroding throughout the country. Dems have become very much the urban party, with very little success in rural areas. They’ve also become the party of both the little educated and the very educated while losing greatly on the middle part.
    To impute this to racism is incredibly simplistic.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/05/2014 - 03:21 pm.

    Demography rules

    For what it’s worth, I’m inclined to a combination of Neal Rovick and Peder DeFor.

    Southern attitudes haven’t changed all that much, just party name and affiliation. I’ve read several pieces recently dealing with the demographic trends that Peder points out. Minorities tend toward the Dems, blue-collar whites tend toward Repubs, and the urban/rural divide has been well-documented.

    Unfortunately for Southerners, and for blue-collar whites everywhere, Republican economic policy is bankrupt from the get-go – basically a wish list for big corporations – so we may well be looking at “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” writ large, and on a national scale. People who vote Republican are essentially voting against organized labor (the source of most middle-class amenities and advantages), and against their own economic interests unless their surname is Walton, or they come from a family in similar economic circumstances. That they’re also hanging on to the racist and misogynistic vestiges of the 19th century almost goes without saying. That said, I think Peder is correct in saying that simply pointing a finger and imputing Republican success in the South exclusively to racism is simplistic. Numerous social and economic forces are at work, and quite a few books have been written – and will continue to be written – about changes in the social fabric of the United States.

    With the relentless attack on the middle class by the 1%, it’s not surprising that the people being hurt the most by globalization would look for a scapegoat, and immigrants and minorities are – for a while longer – easier to deal with politically than the 1%. As people like me – old white males – die off, and are replaced by minorities and a host of people who are, like Mr. Obama, multiracial, that sort of desperate rear guard action will be more and more difficult to maintain. We’re not far removed from a nation where European whites themselves become a minority. I doubt I’ll be around to observe, but it’ll be interesting for others to see how the political and social landscape changes as that transition occurs.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/05/2014 - 09:25 pm.

      The Republicans’ problem

      is that (as Ray notes) the minorities are becoming the majority.
      It appears that (at least some of them) have figured this out,
      and are trying to figure out a way to appeal to minorities while remaining Republican (and keeping their rich white donors).

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/05/2014 - 07:15 pm.

      Wish List for Corporations

      I understand the urge to cling to this idea that Republicans are simply dancing to the tune of their corporate masters but I don’t understand how anyone could still believe that this is only a Republican problem. The Obama administration has been in bed with insurance companies, car companies, conglomerates like GE, financial companies, the entertainment industry, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Republicans have admittedly not been as free market in practice as they’ve been in preaching but that doesn’t somehow put purity dust on the Dems.

      I’d dispute that organized labor is the source of most middle class amenities and advantages but that’s simply a policy dispute between us. That theory gives unions all the credit for the post war boom while letting them avoid all of the problems (stagnation, unrealistic pensions, artificial market shares) that they caused. Similarly, I don’t think that the 1% are the cause of most middle class problems. Nor globalization.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/05/2014 - 09:28 pm.

        Straw horses

        No one on this blog has pretended that things are that simply black and white.
        Nor most responsible commentators.
        It’s the old ‘balance’ argument:
        Saying that ‘the other side does it too’ implies that both sides are equally guilty.

  5. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/05/2014 - 08:42 pm.

    Some observations

    First, let’s put the main issue to rest: This change has nothing to do with racism. In addition to Mr. Defor’s observation that majority of Democratic losses occurred in the last 20 and even last 10 years, I can point out that the white voters chose Republicans regardless of the candidate’s skin color: Mr. Tim Scott won in South Carolina in the same fashion Republicans won in all other southern states.

    But if not racism, then what? And the original article clearly answers that question: Democrats moved so much to the left that they lost the South. Despite constant accusations that Republicans moved to the right, they clearly did not if we consider that some of them can now talk about same sex marriage and many supported federal regulation for education. But Democrats moves to the left so much (Clinton reformed welfare; how many Democrats would support it now?) that only generally radical young people stay with them (or came to them). Interestingly, Democrats have the highest support among young unmarried childless women – the most idealistic category of people one can imagine. When those women get married and have children, they switch to Republicans. Of course, more and more women never do that….

    As for Republicans’ supporting only the wealthy and getting all their money from them, Mr. Defor also responded quite well. I can only add that these accusations basically echo the idea of Mr. Gruber: Voters are stupid, especially those who vote for Republicans. Read this – it is a good summary of that unfortunate approach:

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/06/2014 - 09:52 am.

      Uncle Tom

      So you don’t believe that the ‘Uncle Tom’ character was a product and sign of racism?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/07/2014 - 11:03 pm.

      Excellent Link

      It reminds me a great deal of some of the comment strings both of us have participated in.

      I am fascinated how race is almost constantly claimed as the root cause of all kinds of problems. And the belief that somehow changing demographics are going to lead to more wins for the Democrats in the future.

      I am thinking the voters are smarter than that, no matter their race, sex, religion, etc.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/06/2014 - 11:51 am.

    Once the repository of our nations shameful past, the South is now becoming the repository of all that made America great.

    As an aside, I’ve never met more virulent racists than I did in Minnesota, and nowhere in my travels have I seen a modern American city with more a pronounced racial divide than Progressive, Diverse Minneapolis.

    Y’all are the victims of an ill deserved smugness.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/06/2014 - 09:51 pm.

      Too late

      It’s already well known that the right wing response to charges of racism is to countercharge “liberals” with racism for pointing that out.

      The problem is that most “liberals” have already accepted that they are complicit in a culture which condones and encourages racism in many forms including “institutional racism.” The answer is not to accuse people with being “smug”. There is no answer is that there is no answer but another question: “what are you going to do about it”?

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 12/11/2014 - 08:41 am.

      The South – the repository of all that made America great?

      LOL Swift – poverty, lack of healthcare, unemployment, measures to keep people from voting and so on did not make America great

  7. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/06/2014 - 12:31 pm.

    Nothing to do with racism?

    It’s quite true that the Republican Party has no lock on corporatism.The Democratic Party too has its Wall Street wing which in the estimation of many wields far too much influence in that party and in this country. And it’s also quite true that organized labor did not alone secure many of the benefits enjoyed by the middle class since WWII.

    But it was because organized labor and unions held the influence in the Democratic Party that it did these benefits were secured through coalitions with farmers (which used to be a much larger part of the population) and , yes, with the Dixiecrat south. Much the solid South would still be living without basic amenities as electricity if not for this influence which brought projects like the TVA in the South or Hoover Dam in the West. So, I agree mostly with Ray Schoch’s comment especially about working class people voting against their (our) own class interests.

    And I agree that things are never simply boiled down to “black and white” (so-to-speak). But the Republican Party, since Nixon quite deliberately, has used racial division to gain political power. Eric’s article reports that Phase I of that project is now complete. . What s disturbing is how the Republican Party it is leveraging that power and what it learned about racial division to gain and wield power in the rest of the country. Corporate wealth has always found it useful to “divide and conquer” using racial and class divisions among the masses.

    The South, as a geographic segment of the country, always has been, and always will be, defined by its economic past, which includes the fact that it was built on the labor of African slaves. The “new solid South” is only the old Dixiecrat South under the banner of a new political party name.

    Slavery did not end with the Civil War. The vestiges of the Jim Crow South are still present and with us as the events of the past year have all too sadly shown. The alarming thing to me is that through the Republican Party, the resurgence of the new Jim Crow is making heavy inroads in the North. What is Wisconsin but a triumph of the same backward principles that have made states like Mississippi and Alabama little more than banana republic(an) states?

    The question is when will the working classes, the former middle class, come its senses and realize how it has been played by America’s corporate owners? The Democratic Party may be no better than the Republican Party as far as being under the influence of corporate wealth and power. But is has not sold its soul. Its lack of coherence and solidarity on virtually any issue make it the most promising vehicle for there to be any “hope of change.”

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/07/2014 - 04:55 pm.

    Blame and actions

    Blaming the Republican Party for using racial division is disingenuous; it is actually the Democratic Party which does it all the time by accusing Republicans of being racists and white-only party.

    Even worse is claiming that slavery and Jim Crow laws are still alive and promoted by the Republican Party (of course, this only proves my statement above that it is the Democrats who use racial division to their advantage). What does Wisconsin have to do with that? Yes, people voted Republican governor in there but based on economy and dislike for “progressivism.” If Democrats do not like that, they should find other argument instead of racism accusations. And that is what the middle working class sees: that Democrats abandoned them in a pursuit of progressive ideas not working in the real world.

    Yes, liberals accepted their complicity in racism… so now they just continue the policies of preventing minorities from succeeding, just by other means…. Conservatives believe that ALL people can move forward if they work hard while liberals do not trust minorities to do so…

    Mr. Brandon, what does Uncle Tom have to do with this?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/08/2014 - 10:32 am.

      Acknowledging the underlying racism

      involved in a black choosing to side with a white power structure built on the labor of blacks.
      That’s why ‘Uncle Tom’ is a pejorative term for most blacks.

      Your basic logic is that there is something inherently racist about identifying the racism shown by others.
      And that helping others is holding them back.
      This claim is supported by ideology, not by fact.
      Orwell lives.

      And on the topic of whether progressive ideas work in the real world:
      our economy has reached levels not seen for at least six years, and GDP is continuing to increase, as is employment.
      Admittedly Democratic policies have been much less ‘progressive’ than they might have been (the stimulus was much too small), but recent history is hardly evidence that it doesn’t work.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/08/2014 - 09:32 am.

      Southern strategy and Solid South

      It’s hardly disingenuous to bring an established fact: that the Republican Party deliberately used racial divisions to gain votes and a stronghold and turn the Solid South, solidly Republican.

      This strategy was used by the Republican Party in Wisconsin and is working with Wisconsin adopting the same failed governance policies of the Solid South. People may have voted for him but it was not because of successful economic policies. Wisconsin’s economy is still in a recession while Minnesota’s adopting progressive policies is succeeding. The middle class has been conned and the polarization by and through the Republican Party is part of the explanation why white middle class voters turn Republican there, voting against their own class interests.

  9. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/08/2014 - 08:56 pm.

    Real racism

    Mr. Brandon, are you saying that all blacks who vote for Republicans and those who are elected on Republican platform are siding with the white power structure either because they are stupid or seek their own interests? That would be a strong statement and very VERY racist…

    No there is no racism in identifying racism when it exists. It is racist to push the ideology which claims that all minorities’ problems are the whites’ fault – it is paternalistic and totally unreasonable. Why do some minorities succeed and some do not? It is a good question to think of… So helping others is great; helping others to the point that you don’t believe in them is bad – just read any parental books.

    Mr. Kingstad, will you please support your claims about Wisconsin? And it is by the way not that behind considering that it had had Democratic leadership for very long time while Minnesota had had Republican leadership for a while… Democrats like blaming Bush for what is happening now but in this case they cut off what was happening four years ago. And in general, the country is doing better now because of low oil prices and lower spending – both thanks to Republicans.

  10. Submitted by Frank Barnett on 12/09/2014 - 09:17 pm.

    TVA reference above

    You all must surely have forgotten the TVA “electrification of the south” was to use the electricity surpluses available after gaseous diffusion took over from the calutron method of uranium enrichment for atomic bomb production.

    Oh wait, I forgot we intellectually oppressed hicks aren’t supposed to know about those things.

    Ever wonder why so many civil war union soldiers were from Indiana? Couldn’t have been the 300$ for signing up (approximately 22000USD today). Confusing for a state of copperheads to fight for the union.

    Race, money, class warfare, deception, obfuscation it never ends.

    Hate to run out now but I have a Moon Pie and a Grape NeHi waiting.


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