Posted by Curt on 2 May, 2013 at 4:45 pm. 1 comment.


Sean Trende @ RCP:

by-and-large agree with the thrust of Jamelle Bouie’s recent American Prospect article, which argues that Republicans badly misapprehend the reason(s) African-Americans generally vote for Democratic candidates. Too many conservatives assert that African-Americans have developed a “false consciousness” and simply need to be shown the error of their ways before they’ll start supporting Republicans. Asking “What’s the matter with black people?” simply isn’t going to get the GOP very far in its minority outreach efforts.

But in the course of this argument, Bouie makes the following statement: “White Southerners jumped ship from Democratic presidential candidates in the 1960s, and this was followed by a similar shift on the congressional level, and eventually, the state legislative level. That the [last] two took time doesn’t discount the first.”

If you polled pundits, you’d probably get 90 percent agreement with this statement. And if you polled political scientists, you’d likely get a majority to sign off on it. That’s maddening, because it’s incorrect.

I’ve written at length on this, both in my book and here, but it is worth revisiting. In truth, the white South began breaking away from the Democrats in the 1920s, as population centers began to develop in what was being called the “New South” (remember, at the beginning of the 20th century, New Orleans was the only thing approximating what we currently think of as a city in the South).

In the 1930s and 1940s, FDR performed worse in the South in every election following his 1932 election. By the mid-1940s, the GOP was winning about a quarter of the Southern vote in presidential elections.

But the big breakthrough, to the extent that there was one, came in 1952. Dwight Eisenhower won 48 percent of the vote there, compared to Adlai Stevenson’s 52 percent. He carried most of the “peripheral South” — Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Florida — and made inroads in the “Deep South,” almost carrying South Carolina and losing North Carolina and Louisiana by single digits.

Even in what we might call the “Deepest South” — Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi — Eisenhower kept Stevenson under 70 percent, which might not seem like much until you realize that Tom Dewey got 18 percent in Georgia against FDR in 1944, and that this had been an improvement over Herbert Hoover’s 8 percent in 1932.

In 1956, Eisenhower became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win a plurality of the vote in the South, 49.8 percent to 48.9 percent. He once again carried the peripheral South, but also took Louisiana with 53 percent of the vote. He won nearly 40 percent of the vote in Alabama. This is all the more jarring when you realize that the Brown v. Board decision was handed down in the interim, that the administration had appointed the chief justice who wrote the decision, and that the administration had opposed the school board.

Nor can we simply write this off to Eisenhower’s celebrity. The GOP was slowly improving its showings at the congressional level as well. It won a special election to a House seat in west Texas in 1950, and began winning urban congressional districts in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia with regularity beginning in 1952.

Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence that something significant was afoot is Richard Nixon’s showing in 1960. He won 46.1 percent of the vote to John F. Kennedy’s 50.5 percent. One can write this off to JFK’s Catholicism, but writing off three elections in a row becomes problematic, especially given the other developments bubbling up at the local level. It’s even more problematic when you consider that JFK had the nation’s most prominent Southerner on the ticket with him.

But the biggest problem with the thesis comes when you consider what had been going on in the interim: Two civil rights bills pushed by the Eisenhower administration had cleared Congress, and the administration was pushing forward with the Brown decision, most famously by sending the 101st Airborne Division to Arkansas to assist with the integration of Little Rock Central High School.

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