Today’s Southern GOP Has Roots In 1964

Many trees have died in the service of the words “GOP Southern Strategy.”

But their death was unnecessary. All we had to do was look at this very simple infographic from Georgia’s Like the Dew:

Georgia counties show move to GOP in 1964

Jim Cobb, who teaches history at the University of Georgia, writes:

[This] is a snapshot of the GOP’s coming-out party in Georgia, an event simultaneously celebrated and bemoaned in four other southern states in 1964. Striking as it seems, even in retrospect, this day had been coming since the late 1930s when white southerners began to cast a wary eye toward the national Democratic party’s increasingly cozy relationship with organized labor and northern blacks, whose ranks had been swelled by a flood tide of southern in-migrants seeking greater freedom and opportunity, but also fleeing a place where they could not vote for one where they could. Sparked by a new civil rights plank in the Democratic platform, the 1948 Dixiecrat insurgency bled over into significant crossovers into the Eisenhower camp in 1952, when the GOP claimed four of the old Confederate states and 1956, when it picked up five. The Republicans’ economic conservatism had also begun to resonate with white-collar whites in the urban and emerging suburban South by the end of the 1950s.

Michael Perman argued two years ago that it was the Voting Right Act of 1965 that turned the tide.

In the wake of the Voting Rights Act, the Democratic Party of the South and of white supremacy was forced to reconstitute itself, as newly enfranchised black voters quite naturally threw their support to the party that, under President Lyndon Johnson’s leadership, had enabled them to regain the right to vote. In response, the conservative, segregationist whites began to flee from a party that was likely to become either the region’s first bi-racial party, or worse, a party controlled by African Americans and their white allies.

At least in Georgia, however, the tide had already turned and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is more-than-likely the key.

[In the 1964 presidential campaign], Republican Barry Goldwater vowed to “go hunting where the ducks are” by using his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to persuade white Southerners to abandon the party of their hallowed forefathers. Goldwater disdained any effort in the South even to retain the support of a vestigial core of middle-class black Republicans that dated all the way back to Reconstruction. Hence his 87 percent tally in Mississippi amounted to what was virtually an all-white landslide in that state. Although white voters in Georgia manifested more resistance to his charms, the dramatic about-face in voting was shocking even to seasoned political observers. Where his Republican predecessor claimed 37% of the Georgia vote in 1960– including the majority of black votes in Atlanta, Goldwater, with hardly a black supporter to his name grabbed 54 percent of the ballots cast. In South Georgia and the Black Belt, the curmudgeonly Arizonan captured better than 60 percent of the vote, more than doubling Nixon’s numbers.

Who’s going to create similar charts for the rest of Dixie?

Oh … and one more for the close:

GOP voters are white and rural

Purely and simply, here in Georgia and damn near everywhere else in this great nation of ours, the most Republican places are most likely anywhere that’s overwhelmingly rural and white. The Repubs may be preaching to the ‘burbs nowadays, but, even if the text has been upgraded, the folks out in the boondocks know the real message hasn’t changed.

9 Comments

  1. This is a common analysis, but one thing it misses is that Republicans were key to passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and that at that time most black voters were Republicans—which is the real reason Lyndon Johnson THOUGHT he was giving control of the South to the Republican party: that all those blacks who now had the vote would give Republicans a bunch of new votes.

    That’s not what happened, but it’s what people thought would happen at the time, and was also part of Democratic reluctance on the matter (almost all the resistance was Democratic): it wasn’t just racism, but because Democrats genuinely feared losing power if they let blacks vote.

    I think part of that is certainly that Barry Goldwater did alienate some black voters. But you can’t pin that one thing on the next half-century of party racial disparity.

    What makes far more sense is to note where black voters found themselves once they were able to vote: in Democratic strongholds where that party controlled most of the power. If you were politically ambitious, your first goal as an aspiring black politician would be to intrude upon the party that held all the power. Which is promptly what they did.

    There’s a wonderful grand irony to this, in that it made the Party of the KKK (the Democrats) now the party of the black voter. But there was a down side too: it entrenched and increased the racial animosity that the Civil Rights Movement leaders like Martin Luther King had wanted to dispel. It gave us generations of ongoing racial tensions–racial tensions which are not helped by continually insinuating that Republicans are fundamentally evil racist people. That puts them on the defensive and makes them angry and resentful at what they often feel are slanderous allegations toward them.

    It isn’t healthy for black voters, for white voters, or the country as a whole that we have this racial disparity between the parties. It’s only helped polarize things and kept a wedge between racial groups.

    It isn’t something to be smug about, or morally superior about. It’ something to be disturbed by.

    There is an assumption that as black voters now begin migrating into suburbia, this will help Democrats. More likely it will, over the next generation, see more black people voting Republican as they realize that in a heavily-Republican area, if they want to get anything done they have to work with the Republicans, the same way they did when they began taking over the levers of power in heavily Democratic cities. That will serve the country better than the current racial polarization we see, which is good for nobody.

  2. It’s also not as unlikely as some would assume; any look at black voter opinion polls shows that they are consistently the most socially conservative group in the Democratic coalition. They are not a good fit with large parts of the current Democratic coalition. They’re generally the most hostile to abortion, to gay rights, to women in the military, and more.

    In short, black voters are a reliable Democratic constituency for reasons of geography as much as anything. Black voters are, by and large, evangelical Christians with a pretty strong traditional-family-values orientation. As blacks move out of Democrat-dominated territory, we really should expect a lot of them to find themselves more at home in the GOP, especially as younger generations unconcerned about the politics of the 1960s–most of them not even alive back then–come into their own and take power.

  3. Dean, you’re completely wrong on this. From FactCheck.org, black voting patterns started tilting Democratic with FDR and shifted even further towards the Democrats with Truman. By 1960 a solid majority of blacks voted Democratic. As for your follow up argument, it’s been being made since social conservatives took over the Republican Party and it still hasn’t happened.

  4. Today’s GOP has its roots in the many Americans who think this country is a white christian nation, and its laws should reflect that, despite what the Constitution says. And in the south, you’ll find a large percentage of the population fits that description.

  5. Thanks Kathy for the post. The information will come as no surprise to many of us but there a great many who could benefit from the knowledge.

  6. Dean, here’s the link to the FactCheck article that punctures much of your argument: http://www.factcheck.org/2008/.....tic-party/

    The election of Roosevelt in 1932 marked the beginning of a change. He got 71 percent of the black vote for president in 1936 and did nearly that well in the next two elections, according to historical figures kept by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. But even then, the number of blacks identifying themselves as Republicans was about the same as the number who thought of themselves as Democrats.

    It wasn’t until Harry Truman garnered 77 percent of the black vote in 1948 that a majority of blacks reported that they thought of themselves as Democrats. Earlier that year Truman had issued an order desegregating the armed services and an executive order setting up regulations against racial bias in federal employment.

  7. The argument that the Civil Rights act was passed with considerable Republican support and therefore the black vote shouldn’t be automatically conceded to the Democrats for that reason doesn’t really hold either. The Republicans who voted for the Civil Rights act were the party’s moderates. The largely southern Democrats and the Republicans who voted against the Civil Rights act were the conservatives in both parties. Today’s Republican party is made up almost entirely of the conservative elements whose antecedents opposed the Civil Rights act with almost none of the moderate ones who supported it. And this can be seen today in the Republican party’s open hostility to anything having to do with civil or voting rights especially in regard to race.

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