Miller manages to not even mention the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act or the Goldwater campaign or the Wallace campaign or Nixon’s Southern Strategy. I’m not going to tell you that race is the only reason the Democrats went from “solid south” to “can’t win the south” in a generation, but unless you’re out of your mind you have to concede that it was a pretty important part of the story.
I agree that race is part of the story, although probably not nearly as important as Matt posits. After all, the rise of the GOP as a majority party in the South happened in the 1980s, not the 1960s. Indeed, as Miller notes, Kennedy won over Nixon in a big way in 1960.
And Miller does at least mention the race issue:
We’re further along in racial politics than the national Democrats ever could imagine or choose to believe.
Minority Southerners complete high school at the same rate as whites. The percentage of minority Southerners with college degrees tripled in the past 25 years. When Newsweek recently named “the cream of the crop” of high schools, seven of the top 10 were in the South, as were 22 of the top 50.
In 1990, a total of 565 African-Americans held elective office in the 11 states of the old Confederacy. You know what the number was in 2000? Almost 10 times that: 5,579.
In Georgia, which is 70 percent white, seven blacks have been elected statewide. Three have been elected twice. While Sen. Max Cleland and Gov. Roy Barnes, both Democrats, were losing in 2002 with about 47 percent of the vote, state Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Commissioner of Labor Michael Thurmond were getting about 57 percent. They carried predominately white counties overwhelmingly, as they had four years before.
For many years in the South, the magic formula for the Democratic nominee to win against a Republican has been to get 40 percent of the white vote and 90 percent of the black vote. Increasingly, it has been easier to get the latter.
But the margin of black votes for the Democrats is going to change soon. It has to change only a fraction to make a huge difference. Ralph Reed, the brilliant strategist and former Republican chairman of Georgia, understands this. So do Bush strategist Karl Rove and many other Republicans.
It will be similar to what happened in a couple of governor’s races in Virginia in the 1990s. Virginia Republicans figured out that they were not going to get many more white votes. They started quietly going after black support.
George Allen and then James Gilmore each received nearly 20 percent of the black vote, just by reaching out and working for it. Going after this constituency directly cost the Democrats core votes. And, by moderating the look of the Republican Party, it indirectly cost the Democrats swing votes.
Steven Taylor, Brett Marston, and I (here, here, here) discussed this issue in a series of posts a few months ago. (The last of the OTB posts has links to many other posts in that debate.)
Update (1100): At the presidential level, it’s true that the GOP trend started with Nixon in 1972. But at all other levels, one essentially HAD to run as a Democrat to get elected to any office of significant in almost all the Southern states well into the 1980s.
As I noted in my discussion with Brett and Steven (see the links above), it was the congressional Republicans that voted for the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, with a bit of cross-over help from Democrats. The Southern politicians who voted against these bills were virtually (if not exclusively) Democrats.
You can’t just look at one variable to explain a trend. The two parties were diverging by the late 1960s on a whole range of issues, of which race was only one.