What Broke the Solid Democratic South?

I’ve read through the Wikipedia article addressing this, but it didn’t answer the question to my satisfaction. I’m too young to have lived through the Southern shift from Democratic to Republican, so I’d like to appeal to those who were alive then to include your own personal insight.

Presumably there wasn’t a significant shift in Southern demographics that caused the party switch, so it must have been a shift in ideology within the parties themselves, right?

The Civil Rights Movement, and the Democratic party’s support for it.

The traditional Democratic based in the South was pro-segregation (dating back to the Civil War and its aftermath). When he signed the Civil Rights Act, LBJ said “We have lost the South for a generation”. And he was right.

The democratic party used to be much more conservative than it is today. The people didn’t change the party did.

Go back and look at some of the key principles of John F Kennedy’s democratic party planks. How far do you think “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” would go in today’s let the federal government take care of everything for you lifestyle?

Considering how much Obama’s emphasized volunteerism, and various initiatives to promote it, I think it’d go pretty damn well.

Understand that Lincoln was a Republican. I remembered distrust of that party in the south even as I was growing up there in the 70’s.

Southern racism is a strange thing.


a) Goldwater, in part simply because he was in fact running against Johnson, was running against civil rights and civil rights activism. Not that he was George Wallace or Lester Maddox, but some said he could have done more to discourage that perception. At any rate, the only states to go Republican in 1964 other than his home state of Arizona were a band across the south: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

b) Four years later, in 1968, George Wallace ran as a third party candidate and won most of the same states. The only southern state to vote Democratic that year was Texas; the others that did not go for Wallace went with the Republican. The south was not happy with the Democratic party and were looking for alternatives, and the Republicans were courting them.

c) From the 70s through the 90s, the South became more and more difficult territory for Democrats, at least on a Federal level. (Many states remained Democratic in their statewide offices). Christian fundamentalists became politicized in a very big way beginning in the late 70s and the Republicans courted them: opposition to feminism, abortion, sex education aside from abstinence, complaining about ‘secularism’ and portraying Christianity as beleaguered and harassed by liberals in government, opposition to the tolerance of gays and gay rights, and trying to reinsert religion into public schools netted them a lot of votes. They campaigned talking of “morals” and “family values”, and people in the south voted them into office and asked for a Bible-based Christian government, and this became the “base” of hard-core Republican voters, to the point that the party, when it had to make choices, came to be more loyal to those issues than to the economic conservatism that the party had been associated with in previous decades.

Even moderate Democratic candidates from Southern states found it difficult to harvest votes from the south. Clinton’s east coast losses were all in the south in '92 and '96 except for Indiana, and Gore lost all of the south in 2000 (famously and disputably close in Florida but not elsewhere) and Kerry did likewise in '04.

I’ll agree that there are strong racial undertones as well. Doing research on the Dixiecrats will uncover much of that.

On social issues, yes. On labor issues, no.

The Republican Party was the party of Lincoln. Lingering resentment over the Civil War gave the Democrats a stranglehold on the south up until the 1960’s. When the Democratic Party got behind the civil rights movement in a big way, the south flipped Republican.

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I would argue the exact opposite discordance is apparent from the quote.

It is the Republicans who avow projects of national greatness or aspiration due to their ideology, and their response to national crises has been the least demanding imperative possible: shop, shop, shop and drill baby drill. These are not the sentiments of reciprocal civic obligation, they’re purely short-term driven detached economic individualism. When we were taken to war, Bush did not ask of the citizenry to come together and pay for it, he lowered taxes, and pretended that flag pin lapels, uncritical support for his policy, and censorship of deceased servicemen was all the patriotic service you could need.

In contrast, Kennedy’s invocation of a spirit of national unity actually resonates perfectly with Obama message of a new compact of democratic participation, bringing change to Washington, and us all having positive obligations towards each other and our society.

You’re misremembering your history there.

Civil rights was such a hot issue in the 1960s that it badly split both parties. Martin Luther King rather famously took his movement to Daley-led Chicago - and experienced a massive setback there. He later said he saw more racism there than in any city in the South.

Around that same time local Democratic politicians in places like Boston were exploiting the race issue, and indeed Boston had massive race riots in the 1970s with few Republicans around to egg them on.

It is true that politicians like LBJ and Hubert Humphrey got civil rights laws through Congress - it is also true that some Republicans like Everett Dirksen were indispensable to this effort. It can’t be denied, though, that lots of Democrats from the South and other places were impediments to this reform - and when Republicans saw civil-rights legislation affecting home prices in their suburban base, many of them bailed as well.

It isn’t as simple as you make it out to be.

I think that’s largely true, that the Democratic Party at that time was not a ahem white knight in shining civil-right-defending armor. Northern racism initiallly got ignored, and when it did get more media attention later, it often became apparent that northern Democratic politicians could be as offensively involved in keeping the black population intimidated & oppressed as any southern official.

But the perception existed in the South that the national (if not local) Democratic Party was in cahoots with black activists and would shove policies down the southern states’ throats and treat them and their elected governors & etc like stupid ignorant clodhopper klansmen in the process. It wasn’t immediately a case of the formerly-hated Land of Lincoln Republican Party becoming the good guys, either, but over time they ended up being the only other party in town, and they did notice the disfavor in which the south was viewing the national Dems and they did court that vote, not as blatant racists but with phrases and rhetoric that amounted to “we would let y’all attend to these race and civil rights issues yourself, as enlightened southerners or as backwards rednecks, either way we’d stay out of it”, and that as such did appeal to racists in the south as well as to folks who weren’t but who valued the self-determination of the southern states more than they values the rights of black people in the south.

Believe me, I’m not defending the Republicans here either. They chased short term votes and caused the party long term harm. But the process where this all played out was a muddy disgusting mess, in which frankly not a lot of politicians distinguished themselves as particularly heroic. Some deserve credit as less opportunistic than others, and that’s as far as that goes.

By the '70s the shift had already happened.

The real split happened in the 1964 Democratic convention in Atlantic City. Some Southern states had two sets of delegates - the traditional all white set, and a new insurgent set that was integrated. There was a massive battle at that convention about who to seat. I forget exactly how it turned out. During that election, Goldwater campaigned on states rights. I actually think he honestly did this for constitutional and not racial reasons, but it played really well in the South. In 1968 Nixon used the Southern strategy very successfully, and by 1972 the party had totally moved away from the traditional Southern Democrats.

You’re quite right that the older Northern Democrats were often no paragons of virtue. Remember the first African American Senator in the 20th century was a Republican.

I was referring to a visible example of such - but that doesn’t mean that those problems hadn’t been there for awhile - look at the example of Louise Day Hicks in Boston. She was a powerful figure, she didn’t advance civil rights at all, to say the least, and she was a Democrat all her life.

A similar thing could be said about Sam Yorty although his allegiance to the Democratic Party wavered in his old age.

I feel we’re talking over details now, though - the point has been pretty well made.

That’s overstated. Jimmy Carter won the South in 1976; and in 1992, Clinton carried Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana. In 1996, he held all of those states except Georgia, and added Florida.

I used to live in Boston, so I know the situation well. I wonder if the difference was that in the South the leaders of the Democratic party shifted allegiance for the most part, while in the North most of the leaders supported civil rights and didn’t shift. Since people like Hicks (who wasn’t really a typical politician) had to stay a Democrat or be marginalized. Add to that the fact that the Republican Party in Massachusetts wasn’t racist in the least - see Brooke. Yorty was a politician, but the same thing probably holds. I suspect Southern Republicans pre-1964 were so feeble anyone joining who could get elected could easily take over.

Following the Civil War, the south always voted as a block for the Democratic Party, in opposition to the Republicans and Abe Lincoln.

It was not until the 1964 election, with Barry Goldwater as candidate, that the voters there realized that their political philosophy was MUCH more in line with the Republicans/conservatives, and the 1964 election was the first time they voted (as a block) for the Republicans. I always thought it was pretty funny, that they had been voting based on a 100-year-old tradition with no thought whatsoever that times had changed. It took Goldwater (then seen as extreme right-wing) and LBJ pushing for civil rights to make them realize that’s where their [del]rotten racist[/del] hearts were.

How far do you think “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” would go in today’s let the federal government take care of everything for you lifestyle?

While growing up in the in rural NE Tennessee, our family’s interpretation of that quote had more to do with getting off your ass and doing something instead of sitting around and waiting for the next gubbermint check to roll in.