Yes I am a liberal northern yankee, but I have not come to praise, bury, (or burn) the South. Nor have I come to shred conservatism in general (that’s for other posts). While race is most definintly a big reason for the shift of the South to the GOP it is not the only (or perhaps even the biggest) reason for the shift. Indeed, all social issues compete with economics as a reason for the South’s political shift.
In popular history the shift of the South to the GOP is often thought to originate in rural areas.
Fact: This is not a rural uprising. For one thing, the south is not (and has not been for quite sometime) majority rural. “Between 1950 and 1970 the ratio of southerners living in metropolitan areas increased from 34.5% to 55.2%. Half the population of Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee lived in non-rural areas. In the three largest southern states (Virginia, Florida, and Texas) over two-thirds of the population in those states lived in metro areas,” (Lassiter, The Silent Majority, p. 230). Giving the growing urban and suburbanization of the South since 1970 it’s a cinch that all these metro percentages are higher now.
Fact: Urbanized area went Republican before many rural areas did. In 1960, Nixon managed to defeat Kennedy in 5 southern states and only narrowly lost Texas to JFK. Was this the result of Nixon’s appeal to the small towns of the Old South? No. “The Sharpest buldge in the Nixon-Republican total was chalked up in the bustling modern cities of the New South: in Dallas, in Houston, in Birmingham, in Atlanta and their suburbs.” (Making of President: 1960 p. 440).
Nor was this new to 1960. In 1952 after the rapid spread of the upper middle class during and after WWII Eisenhower won 70% of upper-income urban whites. So the key year of first (and permanent) Republican voting in the South was not 1968 or 1964, but 1952.
Lest anyone thinks this has changed look at 1996. Even though Dems ran a southern candidate “among metropolitan white voters there were twice as many Core Republicans (54%) to Core Democrats (27%)…. Meanwhile, Republican growth in the metropolitan South has been based chiefly on votes from the expanding middle-and upper income classes” (Merle and Earle Black, Rise of Southern Republicans, p. 266). This is true despite the fact that the religious rights has less of a presence in metropolitan areas than in rural ones.
Finally, while many suburbs may look alike all over this country they don’t vote alike. In the suburbs, as in most places, the wealthier the voter the more likely he or she is to vote Republican. But look at this division.
In 1996, 2000, and 2004 the Democratic candidates won 49.2%, 48.4%, and 48.3% of the official vote. All three candidacies won 47% of the suburban vote. “So to win Democrats must increase their vote totals in the surburbs.” Well, yes but keep this in mind: In 2000 Al Gore won the total non-southern suburban vote by about 15 percentage points. Bush won the total southern suburban vote by 20 percentage points! (Almanac of American Politics 2002, p. 47). Given the fact that 1996 Clinton and 2004 Kerry had national and suburban totals that were very similar-if not identical-to Gore’s, it’s a cinch to believe that the big division between non-southern and suburban voters repeated itself in 1996 and 2004.
So the rural South’s voting majority Republican lines up with the rest of the country. The phenomena of metropolitan areas (including the suburbs) voting Republican is almost entirely a southern phenomena. Of course, many cities (e.g. majority-black Atlanta) currently vote Democrat, but it’s vote is more than canceled out by the growing suburbs and it’s big slant towards the Republicans (e.g. Cobb County of Georgia).
Next: More Than One South: Outer vs. Deep Pt. 2 .