Southern White Democrats Near Extinction

In my adult memory, the American South was a one-party Democratic region for all but presidential elections. Aside from minority set-aside districts, the reversal is near complete.

In my adult memory, the American South was a one-party Democratic region for all but presidential elections. Aside from minority set-aside districts, the reversal is near complete.

WSJ (“Southern White Democrats Face End of Era in Congress“):

The only remaining white Democrat in the House of Representatives from the Deep South, Rep. John Barrow, is in jeopardy of losing his job in November, which would mark a monumental shift in American politics.

In an stark realignment, voters in the Deep South have divided into an increasingly black Democratic Party and a mostly white Republican Party. Already, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are represented in the House solely by white Republicans and black Democrats. Georgia could join that list if Mr. Barrow, who is running in a district redrawn to include more whites and Republicans, loses in November.

Mr. Barrow’s challenge is one measure of a political and cultural divide, echoed less dramatically elsewhere in the country, that is changing the face of the two parties. Minorities and women have become a bigger part of the Democratic contingent in the House, while Republicans increasingly are attracting white Southerners.

Leaders of the two parties interpret the phenomenon differently. Republicans say white voters are increasingly voting Republican, turned off by what they say is the Democratic Party’s growing liberalism. Democrats blame Republican leaders for redistricting actions that Democrats say are concentrating black voters in a smaller number of districts.

These explanations are not mutually exclusive.

It should be noted that, over the period that Republicans gained a strangehold over the Deep South in statehouse and congressional races, they’ve lost their Electoral College stranglehold over California, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina and become much less competitive in places like Pennsylvania.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Congress, Quick Takes, Race and Politics, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    Can we not say the Southern Strategy worked?

  2. stonetools says:

    @sam:

    Say what you want about Nixon, he was an astute political strategist. The Republican Party has become the Confederate Party, with redoubts elsewhere in the country. Its an almost reverse of the electoral map of say, 1920, where the Republicans led everywhere except in the Democratic “Solid South”.

  3. CSK says:

    I always thought the existence of Southern Democrats (which Florence King once pointed out was an oxymoron anyway) was a hangover from the Civil War. Yankees were Republicans, so Southerners had to be Democrats, just as all Massachusetts white blue-collar Roman Catholic ethnics have to be Democrats, because only WASPs are Republicans.

    It has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with tribal loyalty.

  4. Clanton says:

    I remember a political science professor telling us about when he moved to Louisiana back in the ’50’s. He went to register Republican (a small town) and was told that there was not even a Republican book and would never be one!
    There are still a lot of us Southern Democrats around. My relatives and friends voted for Nixon and Reagan – with their eyes closed! (Most voted for Humphrey – if he’d had another week, he would have won in ’68! It was all those hippies that messed everything up that year). I will remain with the Democrat party; most of the local races are still won by Democrats. The Democrats got LBJ to blame for all this. I remember some great southern senators: Russell, Ervin, Fulbright, Russell Long.

  5. Jay says:

    @Clanton:

    I will remain with the Democrat party; most of the local races are still won by Democrats.

    I’ll believe you are a Democrat when you use the correct name of the Democratic party instead of that childish Republican diminutive.

    he Democrats got LBJ to blame for all this.

    Yeah, that pesky LBJ. How dare he let those uppity [african-americans] vote and go to school and speak to white women without being killed and all that.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    Southern White Democrats are now Southern White Republicans. Once LBJ got the Civil Rights Act passed and signed into law the migration was on. Since 1968 Republicans have run national elections based in part on a Southern Strategy of race resentment – it worked well for 40 years.

  7. legion says:

    @CSK: You’re not wrong. When the Civil Rights movement started to pick up steam in the South, it was supported by a large chunk of Democrats outside the South… so Southerners who were anti-Civil Rights chose to leave the party & became Republicans; they’re Republicans to this day. They’re also still bigots, and the national GOP has shown, time and again, that they’re completely fine with that.

  8. Rob in CT says:

    Wow, how surprising.

    In other news, a few years ago Chris Shays lost his seat in CT, and he was the last New England Republican member of the House.

    The Southern Strategy giveth, the Southern Strategy taketh away.

  9. sam says:

    @Clanton:

    The Democrats got LBJ to blame for all this.

    You mean because he signed the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts? Let me quote in full his speech on signing the Civil Rights Act:

    My fellow Americans:

    I am about to sign into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I want to take this occasion to talk to you about what that law means to every American.

    One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom–not only for political independence, but for personal liberty–not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men.

    That struggle was a turning point in our history. Today in far corners of distant continents, the ideals of those American patriots still shape the struggles of men who hunger for freedom.

    This is a proud triumph. Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning. From the minutemen at Concord to the soldiers in Viet-Nam, each generation has been equal to that trust.

    Americans of every race and color have died in battle to protect our freedom. Americans of every race and color have worked to build a nation of widening opportunities. Now our generation of Americans has been called on to continue the unending search for justice within our own borders.

    We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment.

    We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights.

    We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings–not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skin.

    The reasons are deeply imbedded in history and tradition and the nature of man. We can understand–without rancor or hatred–how this all happened.

    But it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic, forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And the law I will sign tonight forbids it.

    That law is the product of months of the most careful debate and discussion. It was proposed more than one year ago by our late and beloved President John F. Kennedy. It received the bipartisan support of more than two-thirds of the Members of both the House and the Senate. An overwhelming majority of Republicans as well as Democrats voted for it.

    It has received the thoughtful support of tens of thousands of civic and religious leaders in all parts of this Nation. And it is supported by the great majority of the American people.

    The purpose of the law is simple.

    It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others.

    It does not give special treatment to any citizen.

    It does say the only limit to a man’s hope for happiness, and for the future of his children, shall be his own ability.

    It does say that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public.

    I am taking steps to implement the law under my constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws are faithfully executed.”

    First, I will send to the Senate my nomination of LeRoy Collins to be Director of the Community Relations Service. Governor Collins will bring the experience of a long career of distinguished public service to the task of helping communities solve problems of human relations through reason and commonsense.

    Second, I shall appoint an advisory committee of distinguished Americans to assist Governor Collins in his assignment.

    Third, I am sending Congress a request for supplemental appropriations to pay for necessary costs of implementing the law, and asking for immediate action.

    Fourth, already today in a meeting of my Cabinet this afternoon I directed the agencies of this Government to fully discharge the new responsibilities imposed upon them by the law and to do it without delay, and to keep me personally informed of their progress.

    Fifth, I am asking appropriate officials to meet with representative groups to promote greater understanding of the law and to achieve a spirit of compliance.

    We must not approach the observance and enforcement of this law in a vengeful spirit. Its purpose is not to punish. Its purpose is not to divide, but to end divisions–divisions which have all lasted too long. Its purpose is national, not regional.

    Its purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom, a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human dignity.

    We will achieve these goals because most Americans are law-abiding citizens who want to do what is right.

    This is why the Civil Rights Act relies first on voluntary compliance, then on the efforts of local communities and States to secure the rights of citizens. It provides for the national authority to step in only when others cannot or will not do the job.

    This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us to go to work in our communities and our States, in our homes and in our hearts, to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country.

    So tonight I urge every public official, every religious leader, every business and professional man, every workingman, every housewife–I urge every American–to join in this effort to bring justice and hope to all our people–and to bring peace to our land.

    My fellow citizens, we have come now to a time of testing. We must not fail.

    Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our Nation whole. Let us hasten that day when our unmeasured strength and our unbounded spirit will be free to do the great works ordained for this Nation by the just and wise God who is the Father of us all.

    Thank you and good night

    The loss of the South to the Republicans is a small price to pay.

  10. James in LA says:

    The result in 2012 is the GOP is finished, as constructed. Demographics and denial assure it.

  11. mattb says:

    @legion:

    When the Civil Rights movement started to pick up steam in the South, it was supported by a large chunk of Democrats outside the South…

    And, to be fair, a lot of Republicans *outside of the South*.

    What must be remembered is that in the South, the vast majority of Elected Democrats AND ALL THE ELECTED REPUBLICANS vote against the civil rights legislation.

    What will be worth watching, come 2016 and assuming that the democratic candidate won’t be a member of an ethnic minority group, is whether or not deep south white democrats will once again vote for them ( http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/05/obamas-permanent-appalachia-and-the-upland-south-problem.html )

  12. LaurenceB says:

    I’ve often wondered what percentage of white, male, married Georgians voted for Barrack Obama. Since I’m one of them. I’ll bet it’s less than 20%.

  13. PD Shaw says:

    “echoed less dramatically elsewhere in the country”

    Yes, I was just commenting over at the Glittering Eye that it appears to me that in the Illinois Congressional Districts, as of right now, the Democrats will only win districts which are at least partly in Cook County (Chicago). This is a striking change where usually there were a few downstate districts that went Democratic.

  14. legion says:

    @mattb:

    And, to be fair, a lot of Republicans *outside of the South*.

    What must be remembered is that in the South, the vast majority of Elected Democrats AND ALL THE ELECTED REPUBLICANS vote against the civil rights legislation.

    Fair enough. What it appears to boil down to is that there is still a great deal of racism and general bigotry in the South. You don’t have to be a champion of re-segregation to get elected by either party, but actively talking about getting civil rights to any minority group will likely keep you out of office at any level.

  15. superdestroyer says:

    The Democrats could have avoided their collapse in the south is the top of the Democratic Party would have avoid the traps of forced busing, social engineering, race norming, quotas, and set asides.

    When the Democrats decided to wholeheartedly support separate and unequal government, they decide to not bothering to appeal to middle class and blue collar whites in states where blacks and whites live close to each other.

    It is easy to support civil rights living in when either your children are in an elite all-white prep school in Chicago, NYC, or SF or you live in Vermont or Minnesota. What is humorous is how whites in Chicago, DC, Baltimore, NYC make the same personal life choices as blue collar whites in the south but them call the people who live in the south racist.

  16. mattb says:

    @legion:

    What it appears to boil down to is that there is still a great deal of racism and general bigotry in the South.

    Completely true.

    Ironically though — or possibly contributing to those issues — there is also a higher degree of social mobility per capita for African Americans in the South as well. While many people focus on legal segregation being the reason for the southern birth of the civil rights movement, it’s important to note that the emergence of a strong black middle class in the south had a lot to do with it as well.

    One possible explanation for this, btw, is a great percentage of inter-generational home ownership among Southern African Americans.

  17. legion says:

    @superdestroyer: You’re absolutely right, SD – the Southern Dems could have avoided losing a lot of the bigots to the GOP by refusing to implement any of the societal fixes that were absolutely necessary to tear down centuries of racist policies in treatment, education, housing, etc. LBJ should have just gone on TV to say “racism is over” and not done anything else. That would have kept the bigots from feeling put upon.

    What is humorous is how whites in Chicago, DC, Baltimore, NYC make the same personal life choices as blue collar whites in the south but them call the people who live in the south racist.

    No. Whites in the north didn’t make choices like beating and murdering black people who didn’t stay out of sight or dared to say “hello” to a white person. And when a bigot committed a racist crime, they were often (though not nearly often enough) actually prosecuted for it, rather than being elected to high office. There have been racists everywhere, but when they know they’re in the minority they tend to at least shut up a little. When they know they’re the majority, they become tyrannical.

  18. mattb says:

    @legion:

    Whites in the north didn’t make choices like beating and murdering black people who didn’t stay out of sight or dared to say “hello” to a white person.

    I wouldn’t go quite that far.

    There have been a lot of racial tensions in the north as well — race riots in many major and smaller cities (like my own Rochester, NY), histories of economic racism and ghettoization of large areas of cities (See New Haven, CT), lynchings and KKK marches (see the infamous Skokie parade).

    The north tends to pretend (or rather hide) it’s long history of racism in a sort of holier than thou trappings. It’s largely been able to forget it’s past while the south is never be allowed to forget.

  19. legion says:

    @mattb: I think in the North it is (or at least was, especially as blacks started coming north for various reasons) more class-related than straight-up racism. It seems a lot more “rich v. poor” or “blue collar v. white collar”… There were a lot of blacks in the left-hand side of those comparisons, and I’m sure a fair amount of racial tension contributed to those riots, but within those groups (my own POV, of course – YMMV) races often seemed to get along. I grew up in Kentucky, and in much of the South (even today) it’s not hard to find a white guy, rich or poor, who’s still spitting mad about blacks just because they’re black.

  20. bill says:

    @stonetools: if you look at the county electoral map you see that the large metro areas are voting mainly for democrats and most of the rest votes republican. not so much a north/south thing as a city/country thing. regardless of who you vote for it’s kinda creepy that the big cities are mainly calling the shots so that candidates have to figure out how to woo them vs. the non-urbanites!

  21. mattb says:

    @legion:

    I think in the North it is (or at least was, especially as blacks started coming north for various reasons) more class-related than straight-up racism. It seems a lot more “rich v. poor” or “blue collar v. white collar”…

    No offense man, but keep telling yourself that.

    There’s no doubt class is at work in all of this. But to pretend that race was not a huge factor (again, lots of race riots took place in the north well into the 70′) is a really dangerous sort of historical revisionism.

    And I say this as a life long northerner.

  22. James Joyner says:

    @bill:

    not so much a north/south thing as a city/country thing.

    Hank Jr foreshadowed this almost three decades ago: “North California, South Alabam’, and little towns all around this land.”

    regardless of who you vote for it’s kinda creepy that the big cities are mainly calling the shots

    Creepy until you realize that most Americans live in those cities and their metropolitan areas. The Red/Blue maps that went viral after the 2000 elections elided that fact: It looked like damned near everybody voted for Bush, even though Gore won some 2 million more votes. But the Gore voters occupied a much smaller footprint.

  23. superdestroyer says:

    @James Joyner:

    If you had really looked at the 3-D maps, you would have realized that the Democrats win in fewer counties but Democrats win those counties by overwhelmingly numbers. Cities like Chicago, New York City, Baltimore, Cleveland, Los Angeles, St Louis, produce massive margins for the Democratic Party that are not matched anywhere by Republicans.

    Politics in the future will be a combination of the urban elites and the urban underclass against the middle class. And since the middle class is getting smaller, the urban elites are bound to get whatever they want.