The South flipping red in the 1960s-1970s: What kept it blue to begin with?

I’ve often heard that LBJ’s signing of the Civil Rights Act was what made many Southern Democrats flip to the red side - and the South has been red ever since - but I am curious why they weren’t just Republicans at the outset to begin with if the GOP better reflected their values or views. What did the Democrats and Republicans have to offer around that era, and in the decades before, that made Southerners prefer Democrats over the GOP?

The Republican party was the party of Lincoln, the party that freed the slaves. Southerners were against the GOP, and for the Democrats, for that reason alone.

My grandfather flew the Confederate flag outside his house, called the 5-dollar bill a “stinkin Lincoln”, yelled the n-word at the TV whenever a black person was on the screen. But he didn’t support the Democrats anymore, from the shift in party alignment that occurred in the wake of the Civil Rights Act. Republicans then shifted to the Southern Strategy to pick up votes like his.

The Democrats were the more racist/pro-white-supremacist party through most of the 19th century until the mid 20th. When LBJ signed Civil Rights, the many white Southern racists mostly abandoned the Democratic party, and seeing an opportunity to gain millions of voters, the Republican party started to fashion rhetoric that would appeal to white racists without being overt enough to drive away white moderates (or “moderates”) who abhor open racism (though they’ve often been tolerant of subtler forms of racism and discrimination).

Memories of the Civil War, which was blamed on Republicans.

The recent thread, Why is the Republican party called the GOP? And why the elephant?, delves heavily into the historic rightward switch of Republicans.

I’m going to guess Southerners felt Republicans didn’t have the South’s best interests at heart. A bit like today’s political parties who often mouth platitudes towards traditionally opposing voters but those voters more often than not are hard to convince. If Republicans, say, of Teddy Roosevelt’s era obtained most of its power from Northern states then Republicans probably did(intentionally or not) put Northern interests before that of the South.

Black Southerners (in the rare cases they were allowed to vote) were staunch Republicans from the time they got the vote until the 1960s progress in Civil Rights. And white Southerners were mostly staunch Democrats, for about the same timeframe, and for mostly the same reasoning – the Democratic party’s Southern wing, between ~1870 and ~1965, was openly white supremacist.

Sure, I can agree with that. I simply wanted to add another reason(we rarely live in a single variable world) why the South would vote Dem. I rather doubt Republicans put Southern interests first and foremost when it came to policy decisions. On the other hand I’m sure Democrats(who obtained much of their power from the South) did put Southern interests first. Whether these policies by Southern Dems were ultimately good for the South is different matter.

Recall the phrase “all politics is local.”

The local mayors and city council governments, the school boards, the governors and state legislatures, and the party organization that provided advertising support were all based in the Democratic Party. It took a few years for people who were well established Democrats to switch over. There were earlier signs of the change occurring: while not doing much for actual Civil Rights, the FDR administration campaigned against Jim Crow in its nationwide advertising and in 1948, a breakaway group of Southern Democrats formed the States’ Rights Democratic Party, (generally known as the Dixiecrats). However, they did not try to organize at the local level and disappeared after the presidential election, except as an epithet used against such supporters.
After the 1964 and 1965 Congressional actions, Wallace and a few others attempted to take control of the (Southern portion of) the Democratic Party. When that was unsuccessful, more people simply began transferring to the GOP. The lack of an organized GOP throughout much of the South made it easier because many did not have to switch parties so much as simply begin organizing as Republicans in places where there were no existing Republicans.

The various Civil Rights acts actually had a modicum of Republican support, but waving the banners of States’ Rights and “too much government,” GOP organizers were able to recruit people. After a number of Republican actions to oppose Civil Rights laws, it became easier to simply label the party (correctly or incorrectly) as “anti-Civil Rights.” And much of the pro-Civil Rights legislation was treated by the “new” Southern GOP as simply attacks on the South.

I know this isn’t really what you’re asking, but they weren’t called “red states” in the sense you’re using before 2000 (cite). In the days of LBJ, the “red side” would have been the Communists.

It’s worth noting that the roots of the rift occurred much earlier than 1964. In 1948, 35 Southern delegates walked out of the Democratic convention in opposition to a civil rights plank in the party’s platform. They formed the ill-fated States’ Rights Democratic party, aka the Dixiecrats. Distrustful of the GOP and failing to make the impact they hoped for, most Dixiecrats rejoined the Dems and hoped to influence the party from within.

Once upon a time, the Democrats were seen as the populists and the GOP as the elitists

As mentioned, the Republicans were seen as the party of Lincoln and of Reconstruction, and also as being focused on the Big City North of Big Banks and strange non-anglosaxon immigrants; while the Democrats were the descendants of Andrew Jackson and defenders of the traditional values. When Reconstruction ended and White Supremacy took back the South’s politics and social control, a “Southern Democrat” identity arose which brought together segregationism and populism. This coincided with a weakness on the national presidential level --between 1869 and 1932 there were only two Democrat presidents-- but both national parties needed Southern votes in Congress so the South was allowed to keep going its way. It is only when the northern/midwestern urban Democratic Party gathers the support of Organized Labor and of immigrants seeking to climb up, by casting itself as antagonist to pro-corporate pro-Old Money Republicans, that the Democrats become once again true national contenders. It didn’t hurt FDR that relief for both urban AND rural working and middle classes, North and South, facing the crisis of the Depression, was welcomed by the voters.

However within a generation the national Democrats grew more commitedly liberal, and as mentioned earlier in 1948 the “Dixiecrats” went into open rebellion against the national party, running an alternate ticket that won 4 states in an effort to deny victory to Truman; then after in 1968 the segregationist-populists again ran a separate ticket under Wallace and won 5 states, the GOP saw the time was ripe for the “Southern Strategy” that would run from Nixon’s to Reagan’s terms and beyond.

Like **tomndebb **mentions, in much of the South local politics remained nominally Democrat for years later, out of institutional inertia, because the Democratic organization had so pervaded every political aspect of the South for over a century, what contests you really had were between factions of Democrats, until GOP structures could take shape. The final depuration only happened in the 2000s with the passing of generational leaders and the “nationalization” of local races.

I’m taking slight issue with you talking about “Southerners” without recognizing that there were essentially two groups of Southerners – black and white Southerners – with very different, and mostly directly conflicting, political preferences. For decades, Southern policy made it essentially impossible for most black Southerners to vote, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist – it’s a small thing, but IMO you should make that distinction and not assume that there was some monolithic group of Southerners with mostly the same views (and the same goes for “Southern interests”, which as you’re using were mostly the interests of white Southerners, and against the interests of black Southerners).

You really ought to have no issue with me talking about Southerners this way. We are discussing Southern politics. Whites had the voting numbers over blacks(by fair means and foul). This meant at state level the South voted Dem. The South’s contribution to national politics in any meaningful way was white led.

The next time anyone talks of modern Californian politics on here I hope you pull them up if they somehow fail to address the Republican vote in the state.

The means were entirely foul. So foul, in fact, that I think it’s very important to ensure that this foulness is included in these conversations, since it was extremely relevant (and that foulness is what separates this from California politics). Further, that foulness (Jim Crow policies) were a huge part of the “interests”, politically, of white Southerners – they wanted to ensure they continued to have the ability to oppress black people and prevent them from voting. To call such a thing “Southern interests” strikes me as (rhetorically) revolting. It’s a small thing, but I think it’s still important.

Not sure if true. The New Deal made a big impact there. Though I don’t have it broken down by region, so if you do, I’d love to see the info. From 1936 on, though, black people have voted more (or at least equally) for Democrats than Republicans. Though there was another big jump in the 1960s. And you can see the difference is more extreme at the presidential level.

The simple answer is that political parties are not static, they shift their platforms over time. The job of a political party is, after all, to get as many of their candidates elected as possible. Since societal mores and preferences also change over time, political parties can either adapt, drive the change to their benefit or die.

I don’t have such data – not only is such data (early 20th century) hard to find in general, due to Jim Crow policies (the mention of which is notably absent from that otherwise solid article), but I’d have trouble trusting any such data from that era with regards to black (and especially Southern black) voting preferences/tendencies… if black people were mostly prevented from voting in the South, voting patterns don’t actually tell us much about the political beliefs of black Southerners. My opinion comes from writings from black Southerners of the era, and what seems like common sense to me that Southern Democrats were generally openly segregationists and white supremacists, and thus most black Southerners would oppose them.

The Democratic Party had been two parties since 1860, when the northern democrats ran Stephen Douglas and the southern democrats ran John Breckenridge. After the war a loose coalition formed between them to compete at the national level.

The turning point is unquestionably Roosevelt. Comparatively - and comparatively only - he, and especially Eleanor, paid more attention to black needs that any previous president. WWII helped form the modern civil rights movement because blacks demanded the equality and freedom they had ostensibly fought for. At the 1948 Democratic Convention, Hubert Humphrey made himself a national figure with a rip-roaring speech calling for an end to segregation. That led to the walkout of Southern Democrats and Strom Thurmond creating the Dixiecrat Party, turning even more blacks Democratic.

Unquestionably, blacks in the South would have avoided voting for most state politicians. Presidential voting was different. That shift presaged the later one where Southerners turned Republican.