Where Is The South?

The Mason-Dixon Line says it starts in Maryland, but that no longer seems to be the case.

South 538

Mirroring yesterday’s post about the Midwest, today’ FiveThirtyEight’s Walt Hickey looks at the results of a similar survey about the South:

First, the Southerners were considerably more certain of which states are their own. While the top few Midwest states barely pulled 80 percent of the vote, nearly 90 percent of respondents identified Georgia and Alabama as Southern, and more than 80 percent placed Mississippi and Louisiana in the South. South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina all garnered above 60 percent.

Southerners seem remarkably content to mess with Texas, giving it 57 percent support. Virginia, Arkansas and Kentucky hovered at about 50 percent.

Also, Maryland — well and truly — is not a Southern state, according to actual Southerners. It pulled a pathetic 6 percent of the vote. That’s worse than Arizona and New Mexico. Walter White is more Southern than a Marylander. Allow me to welcome you to the North, Maryland. I’ve always loved your well-appointed Interstate 95 rest stops!

Consistent with a tradition of skepticism of the federal government, the South further disagrees with the census designation of what’s in the South. In addition to Maryland, Oklahoma and West Virginia both pulled less than 25 percent support, despite the fact that the census says they’re the South. Take that, big government

Maryland has always been an interesting case. It was, along with Delaware and Kentucky, one of the three slave states that remained in the Union during the Civil War. At the same time, though, the Free State had some very strong pro-Confederate/Anti-Lincoln sentiments at the time, to the extent that Abraham Lincoln was forced to transit through the state in disguise on his journey to Washington, D.C. to get inaugurated in 1861. Additionally, the Mason-Dixon Line, which has long stood as the symbolic divide between the North and the South is at the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, something that has surprised more people than I can mention when it has come up in conversation. At the same time, though, there really isn’t much of anything “southern” about Maryland at this point. Baltimore has become as much a Mid-Atlantic/Northeastern city as the rest of the D.C.-to-New York I-95 corridor that it sits upon. Western Maryland has more in common with West Virginia and Pennsylvania than it does anything in the South. And, Annapolis and the Eastern Shore have become their own mini-geographic area along with Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Culturally, the story is pretty much the same. Maryland may have been “southern” in 1861, but it certainly isn’t today.

Of similar interest are the perceptions, yet again, of Missouri:

Also, does anyone know what’s going on with Missouri? Mostly excluded from the South and Midwest, it appears to be the geographic equivalent of the last kid picked during dodgeball.

Of course, there’s also a Civil War element to Missouri’s story as well. In the months leading up to war, Missouri’s allegiance was bitterly fought over by partisans on both the Confederate and Union sides, and the state ended up sending men to fight in both nation’s armies. During the war, there would often be minor skirmishes in the state between the two sides as well. In a sense, then, Missouri was a state that didn’t know quite where it belonged. That appears to still be the case.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. B. Minich says:

    My thought? The SEC adding Mizzou has made it feel more Southern to those polled.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    No real surprise here. The deep south, MS, LA, TN and AL will be the last to go. GA may turn purple before many think. In TX Austin has been blue for a long time and it has recently been joined by Houston and Dallas. Most of the “Bubas” are old and going to die in the next 15 years. OK surprises me a little, I would have thought it would have identified more with the South. To a lesser extent so does AZ but it’s going to be the first state victim of climate change so it probably really doesn’t matter that much.

  3. Scott says:

    @Ron Beasley: The South in Texas is primarily East Texas, the old cotton-growing slave holding part of Texas. The rest of Texas has several other personalities.

  4. dazedandconfused says:

    Go to Miami and drive north a couple hundred miles. You’ll know it when you see it.

  5. Pinky says:

    All the states south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi, plus Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

    That’s not to say that they all have a common culture. The main division is between the Atlantic and Appalachian states. New Orleans, Texas, and Florida south of Disneyworld have their own culture/s.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    The Old Confederacy.

    The Missouri bootheel, Illinois in the vicinity of Cairo, and parts of southern Indiana have a distinctly Southern character—generally reflecting the worst aspects of the South—but Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana aren’t Southern states.

  7. Mu says:

    Hmm, my answer triggered the spam filter. Must have hit my post limit for the day.

  8. FredW says:

    …one of the three slave states…

    Actually there were four slave states that didn’t secede — Missouri was the fourth.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    Missouri…. ended up sending men to fight in both nation’s armies.

    I believe there were regiments in the Union Army named for every Confederate state except SC containing loyalists from those states.

  10. Dave Schuler says:


    Although most of my Missouri ancestors fought for the Union, I did have ancestors on both sides of the American Civil War.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    Years ago I was very impressed by The Nine Nations of North America, Joel Garreau, 1981. He divided NA into nine countries based on shared culture and similar economies. He assigned each a descriptive name. Dixie included the Confederate states plus KY and the southern tips of WV, IN, IL, and MO, and the west edge of OK and TX. He includes south and west TX in Mexamerica, north TX in Breadbasket, and much of NW VA in The Foundry. I think this still holds up pretty well.

  12. Bruce Henry says:

    A very fun movie about Missouri during the Civil War was 1999’s “Ride With The Devil,” directed by Ang Lee.

  13. PD Shaw says:

    The South is a distinct region, and its distinction is in the form of secession. All 11 states that seceded are in “the South.” Then we are left with the complicated states, a few of which attempted secession, or took the position of conditional Unionists (which was the position of some of the states that did secede)

    Maryland was probably prevented by the Union army from seceded, so its “the South.”
    Kentucky, took a positional Unionist position that assumed state sovereignty, and but for the Confederate’s invading first, would probably have seceded due to Union necessity of crossing Kentucky, so its “the South.”
    Missouri’s governor was pro-secession, but faced hostile opposition that made it impossible for his plans to succeed. It was neutral ground, but if forced to choose, the Missouri Compromise makes it “the South.” But really, I think Missouri has the North, South, East and to a lesser extent West in its makeup, and would be a good Primary State.

    Oklahoma confounds me. In my mental map its Indian Territory.

  14. Gromitt Gunn says:

    After a decade in various parts of Texas, I’ve concluded that Houston is the westernmost Southern metro region, DFW is the southernmost Plains State metro region, and El Paso and San Antonio mark the northernmost border of Mexican (specifically, Tejano) culture. Austin, Midland/Odessa, Lubbock, the Hill Country, San Angelo, Waco, Amarillo, etc., are all uniquely Texan, frequently in different ways.

  15. PD Shaw says:

    @B. Minich: “My thought? The SEC adding Mizzou has made it feel more Southern to those polled.”

    Northwest Ordinance: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

    That’s somewhat of a Big 10 cheapshot, but the Northwest Ordinance had a vision for the area North of the Ohio River that is distinctive — it’s Federalist.

  16. @FredW:

    Yes, you are correct

  17. DrDaveT says:

    nearly 90 percent of respondents identified Georgia and Alabama as Southern, and more than 80 percent placed Mississippi and Louisiana in the South. South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina all garnered above 60 percent.

    That’s some serious spin going on there. The correct headline here is “1/3 of people don’t think South Carolina is in the South”, which is just gobsmacking.

    At the same time, though, there really isn’t much of anything “southern” about Maryland at this point.

    As you note, they need to cross the Bay. The Eastern Shore of Maryland has a lot more in common with the tidewater of Virginia and North Carolina than with the mainland of Maryland.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Dave Schuler: MO north of the the Ozarks is not a southern state. Down here? It is pure Appalachia. (now)

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @PD Shaw: Don’t know if you noticed yesterday, but you edumicated me on the M-D line. I think I knew that once upon a time, but over the years it migrated south to the Tennessee- Kentucky border in my mind. Kind of embarrassing. Oh well, not the first time, won’t be the last. 🙂

  20. Dave D says:

    As I always argue with a coworker from Missouri, it is the south. They were a state that allowed people to be held as property at the onset of the Civil War and they have a distinct style of BBQ. Both southern, also they burned down KU.

  21. Grewgills says:

    All of the confederate states minus West Texas, South Florida, and urban Virginia are culturally Southern. Bits of Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kentucky may also be culturally Southern.

  22. KansasMom says:

    @Dave D: They burnt down Lawrence in 1856 and 1863. KU was founded in 1865. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

  23. aFloridian says:


    Go to Miami and drive north a couple hundred miles. You’ll know it when you see it.

    True. I’ve actually never been further south in my home state than Orlando, and even down there it is a bizarre, very different world from the Panhandle and Northern Florida. Up here, it is just as Southern as any other Deep South state, although I do think we have a less crystallized social structure that makes the whole state different. Also, interestingly, I have met people from the “Florida Heartland” in the South Florida interior along Okeechobee who are most definitely culturally Southern.

    If I can take liberty of ignoring state lines to some extent, the South is Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, East Texas, South Missouri, Arkansas, a large segment of Kentucky, and, I guess, Virginia – once upon the time the very heart and capital of the South.

  24. Kylopod says:

    As a native Marylander, I’ve long been intrigued by this paradox. I’m aware that Maryland was historically considered part of the South, though nothing about where I grew up strikes me as typically “Southern” (except maybe the accent, especially the famous Baltimore variety, which has some vaguely Southern features).

    It is odd indeed that Georgia and Alabama are far more likely to be identified as “Southern” than Florida, a state that is unquestionably to the South of both. It reminds me of the way the word Oriental, which originally meant simply “Eastern,” was applied to all Arab countries including Morocco which is geographically to the west of most of Europe!

  25. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Kylopod: Florida is the only state that gets more Southern as you go further North.

  26. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Dave Schuler: I lived for three years in New Albany, Indiana, which in culture was more Southern than Midwestern. As to Maryland, I have a friend who lived most of her life in Prince Georges County; she identifies herself as a Southerner, while folks from Frederick and Hagerstown don’t.

  27. What are we supposed to do with West Virginia? They don’t think they’re the Midwest nor the South. And, in my opinion, they’re differently not the north. Even though they ended up seceding from Virginia to join the Union, I would say, culturally, they’re more southern than a lot of Virginia.

  28. DrDaveT says:


    and, I guess, Virginia

    “Real Virginia”, as Sarah Palin so memorably put it, is split between the South and Appalachia. Northern Virginia is part of the mid-Atlantic North.

  29. DrDaveT says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    What are we supposed to do with West Virginia?

    West Virginia is in Appalachia — the only state that is essentially entirely in that region (though the extreme eastern panhandle falls outside). The rest of Appalachia consists of western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, the panhandle of Maryland, extreme SW Virginia, east Tennessee, western North Carolina, and northwest Georgia.

  30. Tillman says:

    Living in a Southern city as I do (Raleigh) is, as I’ve come to learn, a very weird experience relative to the rural South. The rural South is pretty much every stereotype you can think of. The metropolitan South keeps the charm, the folk mannerisms, and the food, but tends to be (and vote) liberal otherwise. Which is why claims that our political divide is more an urban vs. rural one instead of red state vs. blue state have resonated with me.

    Imagine a dude defending gay marriage in a thick Southern drawl occasionally using terms you’d find offensive like “homo” or “sodomite.” (PC isn’t that big here.) I hear that remarkably often. I’ve actually heard a dude spout the sort of stuff you’d normally hear Cornell West say, but substitute “black people” for “n*****s.” The words are apparently harder to lose than the ideology.

  31. stonetools says:

    As far as Virginia is concerned, Northern Virginia is part of the north due to an influx of Yankees and immigrants ( like me).It continues seamlessly from the DC Maryland suburbs.
    IMO, “real Virginia” starts around Fredericksburg.

  32. Pinky says:

    The American South, the Confederate South, and the Red State South are different concepts. A lot of Northerners (as well as Southern liberals) treat them as identical, as The Other.

    AFloridian makes a good point. The division in Florida isn’t simply north/south. There’s a different, more traditionally Southern culture in the inland and Gulf side extending further down the state. On the Atlantic side, as you go south, you’ve got Florida, Disney World, more Florida, then rich Florida, New York, and Cuba.

  33. al-Ameda says:

    I do not consider Texas and Florida to be part of ‘The South’ at all (especially in view of the general stereotyping about Southern culture, the Civil War and so forth.)

    Texas and Florida are places unto themselves.

    Texas is “Texas” a kind of iconic state that is representative of a lot of American myth. It’s generally conservative but not in a way that say, Mississippi is.

    Florida is all-over-the-place. From a news-fo-tainment perspective, Florida can hardly be beat. It’s a lot more than stereotypical Southern culture.

  34. Dave Schuler says:


    Some years ago I was speaking with a woman whose three grown children had moved from Indianapolis to Japan, the UK, and Texas. I said to her “So, they’ve all moved to foreign countries?”

  35. al-Ameda says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Some years ago I was speaking with a woman whose three grown children had moved from Indianapolis to Japan, the UK, and Texas. I said to her “So, they’ve all moved to foreign countries?”

    I hear you.

    I think America has 3 places that – to foreigners, and maybe to Americans too – have iconic, somewhat mythological status: New York City, Texas, and California (particularly Los Angeles-Hollywood). To people everywhere those places seem to conjure up images of all kind, in a way that the rest of America generally does not.

  36. @stonetools: I would include Fredericksburg in the definition of Northern Virginia and probably Spotsylvania as well. The definition gets increasingly hazy when you get to Caroline and Orange counties. Both counties have a large population in newer subdivisions, with most of those people commuting to Northern Virginia proper for work.

  37. sam says:

    Since I’m now reading America’s greatest novelist, perhaps something from him would be appropriate:

    “the deep South dead since 1865 and peopled with garrulous outraged baffled ghosts”


    “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.”

    And if now we ask, where is the South, the answer must be, The South is a romantic state of mind, foredoomed and implacable, and the possession of people living in every state of the Union.

  38. Anderson says:

    The South defined itself in 1861.

  39. stonetools says:


    Yeah, but I think we all agree that the South is more than the 11 Confederate States. I know that you are a resident of Mississipi, which I think of as the “Southiest” state of the South. How would you define the South.

  40. gVOR08 says:

    @DrDaveT: Appalachia also includes SE Ohio. Most definitions include Clermont County, which includes the eastern side of the Cincinnati beltway and eastern suburbs. When we first moved to (more or less) urban, sophisticated Cincinnati it was something of a shock to discover Appalachia begins 12 miles east from downtown. You don’t drive very far until you’re on twisty roads, small towns, and not much evidence of money.

    It makes our home district, OH-2, a little weird, a chunk of Appalachia and the old money suburbs and neighborhoods of Cincinnati. Very Republican.

  41. Tillman says:

    @stonetools: That’s why I like the term “the Deep South.” Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama are the only states I place unambiguously in that category. I’d bicker over Georgia and Tennessee.

  42. Grewgills says:


    The American South, the Confederate South, and the Red State South are different concepts.

    There is quite a lot of overlap. The American South is the Confederate South minus some border areas made less culturally Southern by immigration. Both of those categories are red or reddish purple.
    As Tillman notes a lot of the cultural divide is urban/rural more than strictly North/South, but people’s (particularly natives) view of what is Southern ties very much back to the Confederacy.

  43. Grewgills says:


    Texas and Florida are places unto themselves.

    East Texas is as Southern as Louisiana or Arkansas and North Florida is as Southern as South Alabama and Georgia. West Texas is more SouthWest and South Florida is a hodge podge.

  44. Pinky says:


    people’s (particularly natives) view of what is Southern ties very much back to the Confederacy

    I think you’d be surprised how little that stereotype conforms to reality, outside of a lingering grudge against the North. I mean, that other map recently showed that people in Louisiana root for NY baseball. The middle-class black in Atlanta, the college professor in Chapel Hill, the dual-citizenship Canadian who lives in Florida half the year…the Southern stereotype doesn’t apply any more. It probably hasn’t since WWII.

  45. Grewgills says:


    the Southern stereotype doesn’t apply any more. It probably hasn’t since WWII.

    I grew up in Alabama in the 70s and 80s and I still have relatives all through the South from East Texas, down to Florida and up to the Carolinas. I visit the Alabama relations pretty much every year and the others less, but still not too infrequently. I am assuming you are not from the South and do not live there or you would realize that your statement above is not true for the majority of the South. Certainly there are progressive pockets in urban areas and around some university towns, but the bulk of the South, particularly the rural South still conforms to more of those stereotypes than not including views on race, religion, sexuality, and history. That is not to say that the South is a bigoted monolith, but that Southern culture with the good (hospitality, music, literature, other arts, and food) and the bad (higher levels of racism, sexism, homophobia, and distrust of the non religious) are still alive and well.

  46. Grewgills says:

    I was too slow on the trigger to add this to my previous.

    This became glaringly obvious to me when I moved back to Birmingham after living in Hawaii for a few years. The casual racism and homophobia in the everyday speech of otherwise warm, friendly, and inviting people was shocking after I had lived outside the bubble for a while. Growing up I didn’t much notice it as sheltered as I was by my privilege (white and middle class) and family (as all children are).

  47. Tillman says:


    The middle-class black in Atlanta, the college professor in Chapel Hill, the dual-citizenship Canadian who lives in Florida half the year…

    I wouldn’t classify the dual citizenship Canadian as Southerner, really, since “dual citizenship” exists in its own category. I had the same thought with a friend who was dual citizenship Israeli, and she mostly agreed with me. (She really loved NC-style barbecue.)

    And your other two examples are examples from large cities. As I said, we’re mostly liberal people here. (moderate Blue Dog Democrat?) A majority of us don’t like the Confederacy or Confederate symbols. (Hilariously, while most of us might consider it an honest regional pride thing, we still wouldn’t flaunt it because it’s bad manners.) That attitude changes once you get twenty miles outside the city limits.

  48. An Interested Party says:

    A lot of Northerners (as well as Southern liberals) treat them as identical, as The Other.

    As if many Southerners (particularly conservatives) as well as many conservatives in general don’t do the same thing to every other group…

  49. DrDaveT says:


    Appalachia also includes SE Ohio.

    I went back and forth on that. I tend to distinguish Appalachia from the Ohio River culture that grew up between Pittsburgh and Cairo from about 1780 to about 1850. My wife and I both have ancestors from that long, skinny state-without-borders-or-government. But you could certainly make a case that SE Ohio is more like Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia than it is like anywhere else.

  50. Pinky says:

    @An Interested Party: I know you are, but what am I?

  51. An Interested Party says:

    I know you are, but what am I?

    Um, not really…much more like “the rest of the story”…or perhaps even a little projection on your part for those poor, dear conservative Southerners…

  52. Grewgills says:

    @An Interested Party:
    I don’t think tu quoque forwards this argument in any meaningful way.

  53. grumpy realist says:

    @Grewgills: How much of what we consider The South is simply nostalgia for living in a Gone With The Wind film set?

    We get the same thing up in New England as well, mainly from the tourists. Those of us who actually live there realize 90% of New England culture is due to the weather and the damn rocks, and neither of those have anything to do with history. We’re ALWAYS going to get Mud Season, and New England soil will always be 85% rocks.

  54. lounsbury says:

    By some chance I was recently reading about the Battle of Gettysburg and the Confederate campaign, and re Maryland the point was made that when Confederate troops entered the state, particularly its northern reaches they were received with hostility to the Confederate surprise. If this is correct it would seem even in that era some good portion of the state did not think itself southern in affiliation.

  55. reader says:

    @lounsbury: Interesting point, and quite true – Maryland was extremely divided, with Northwestern Maryland MUCH more unionist than the Eastern shore and southern Maryland.

    The western portion of Maryland (from Frederick westward) had fewer slaves and more of a German / Appalachian population that resembled West Virginia’s demographics at the time. Similar to West Virginia (which seceded from Virginia to stay in the Union), Western Maryland was much more supportive of the Union cause, in part because they were not as reliant on the slave-based economy.

    Lee’s invasion from that standpoint was a bit of a strategic mistake, since he invaded the portion of Maryland that was least disposed to slavery or the Confederate Cause. Had he invaded the Eastern Shore or even Southern Maryland, he would have received a much warmer welcome.

    As a former Marylander who grew up there, I view Maryland as a thoroughly Mid-Atlantic / border state (not truly South or North). The state has some undeniable historical ties to the South though (both in terms of being a slave state and historical affiliation with the former Democratic Solid South), but most of the state is longer even close to anything resembling “southern” culture. Demographic changes and the growth of the cities has brought Maryland much closer to its Northeastern neighbors.

    If you want a real hoot, check out the Maryland state anthem (that we learned in grade school). Some choice excerpts: “The despot’s heel is on thy shore…” (that “despot” is Lincoln by the way). Or my personal favorite: “Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum! / She breathes! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come! / Maryland! My Maryland!”

  56. Grewgills says:

    @grumpy realist:
    I was going to add chowder, lobsters, and Steven King, but on reflection decided those could be attributed to rocks and weather.

    Some of Southern culture is that nostalgia (looking at history through rose colored glasses). That said, a certain type of hospitality and disguised inhospitality (Well isn’t she dressed to draw the boys eyes, bless her heart.), food (delicious and horrible for us), music, literature, and art (largely born from pain) all play a large part in our (I am still Southern, though I live further South now) culture.

    Sorry for all the parenthesis making this a garble, but I am working on very little sleep and trying to get papers graded for class this morning.

  57. DrDaveT says:

    “The despot’s heel is on thy shore…” (that “despot” is Lincoln by the way)

    And his ‘heel’ is the District of Columbia. That weirded me out, too, as a kid from Illinois attending Maryland schools in the 70’s.

  58. Tillman says:

    @Grewgills: “Bless his/her heart” might be my favorite colloquialism. It sounds so old-fashioned and is the perfect euphemistic put-down.

  59. An Interested Party says:

    I don’t think tu quoque forwards this argument in any meaningful way.

    There are many ways that people define “The South” and those who live there…certainly one characteristic that many Southerners seem to possess is how they look at those outside of their region as The Other…

  60. Grewgills says:

    @An Interested Party:
    No moreso than people I know from New England, the Netherlands, or Hawaii. What I think you are conflating with Southern here is rural or small town.