View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Thursday, February 05, 2004

Southern Strategy 

George Will notes that the Republican competitiveness in the South, marking the party's emergence as a national party, began to rise with Eisenhower, not Goldwater or Nixon.

The legend is that the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, pushed by two Democratic Presidents, finally forced the regnant Dixiecrats out of the party, into supported Wallace and eventually Nixon and Reagan. This is largely based on a possibly apocryphal story about Lyndon Johnson, signing those bills, remarking that he had "doomed the Democratic Party in the South for a generation."

Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia notes that Eisenhower was popular in the South long before the racial turmoil of the 60s.

States representing more than half the Southern electoral votes have been, Alexander notes, "consistently in play" since 1952. That was before the Goldwater candidacy, before school busing and at a time when congressional Republicans were stronger supporters than Democrats were of civil rights bills. A higher proportion of Republican than Democratic senators voted for the 1964 and 1965 civil rights bills, and in 1968 whites in the Deep South preferred George Wallace to Nixon.

Beginning in the 1950s, millions of Midwesterners and Northeasterners moved to the South. But, Alexander says, instead of voting Democratic, they voted Republican "at higher rates than native whites." Even today, "identification with the GOP is stronger among the South's younger rather than older white voters." Republican strength has been highest among persons young, suburban, middle class, educated, non-Southern in origin and concentrated in the least "Southern" high-growth areas.

Sen. Zell Miller knows what he's talking about. If the Democrats want to start winning again in the South, they need to stop chastising people there about "God, guns, and gays."

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