There is nothing mysterious about the big picture of Southern voting patterns. (My apologies to all the well-informed people on this blog for whom the following is a simplistic rehash of history.)
This is quite long but I hope the middle of the night crowd will cut me some slack about that.
But the New Deal was the beginning of the realignment of the black vote. By 1936 blacks were switching allegiance from the Republican to the Democratic Party in droves. Roosevelt's overwhelming victory in 1936 was the natural result of economic policies that benefited otherwise conservative Southern whites and social policies that appealed to black and white northern liberals. De facto and de jure conditions in the south prevented most Southern blacks from voting during these decades. But blacks were extremely grateful for the New Deal, and those who could vote wanted to vote for FDR. Eleanor was a big part of this too, as she openly supported equal education opportunity programs for blacks. Although she did not take on the larger issue of segregation, her public stand against lynching and the highly symbolic gesture of inviting Marian Anderson to sing at the White House had tremendous impact on both sides.
Truman desegregated the military and supported other civil rights legislation in the late 40s. This made a lot of white Southerners angry, but they couldn't bear to officially leave the Democratic party. The South cherishes many old-school aristocratic values about heritage: who your great-grandfather was is who you are, and if great-grandpa hated the Republicans then you have to hate them too. Thus the Dixiecrats were born (officially known as the States Rights Democratic Party). Many stayed officially registered as Dems, but sympathized with the Dixiecrats in their voting. When Strom Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948, he won 39 electoral votes, carrying Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina. He also got one electoral vote from Tennessee. (He got more electoral votes than McGovern and Mondale combined.)
These Dixiecrat years are one explanation for Condoleezza Rice--her father and grandfather had a lifelong negative reaction to the horrible treatment of blacks by people who called themselves Democrats. The only place they could get a fair shake in that place and time was from people calling themselves Republican. But blacks who keep referring to the Republican party of the 21st century as the "Party of Lincoln" to explain their reversed racial identification with the GOP, are ignoring the very significant events that have happened since then with respect to party labels.
A few weeks before the 1960 election Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and sent to prison in the aftermath of a "sit-in" to desegregate lunch counters. Democratic nominee Jack Kennedy telephoned King's wife, Coretta, to offer his support, and Bobby and Jack worked together behind the scenes to try to get King released. When MLK was released a few days later, he publicly thanked the Kennedys for their help. Pro-segregation southern whites despised Kennedy for siding with King; blacks who supported King were thrilled; both sides expressed their feelings at the ballot box. When Kennedy was assassinated, the black community was devastated as many had put their hopes in him, even though he had not given civil rights legislation a high priority during his truncated presidency.
It was a shock, pleasant or unpleasant depending on what side you were on, when Lyndon Johnson picked up JFK's unfinished business baton and got the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. The day he signed it into law, Johnson reportedly told Bill Moyers "I've just handed the South to the Republican party for the next fifty years, certainly for the rest of our lifetimes." Sure enough there was a march to the exits as people switched parties like mad in order to vote for Goldwater that Fall, who still lost, but swept the Deep South: carrying Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia and his home state of Arizona.
The Civil Rights Act of 64 and the Voting Rights Act of 65 were watershed events. This is the time when blacks began to vote Democratic as a solid bloc, except for areas of the south where Dixiecrats by any other name were still running things (and areas where blacks still had trouble voting). Southern whites on the fence until then about party identification were feeling a new pressure to choose sides. During this odd period, the label "Democrat" by itself told you almost nothing about where someone stood on the liberal-conservative spectrum.
Nixon was smart enough to realize that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was his ticket to the Presidency. Still feeling that the 1960 election had been stolen, and that any means necessary were justified to avenge his razor thin loss to Kennedy, Nixon launched the now famous "Southern Strategy" of speaking in code (and sometimes openly) about race to the white electorate in the South, building on the Goldwater vote and effectively exploiting Southern white fears that civil rights for blacks were moving too far too fast.
The only fly in the Southern Strategy ointment for Nixon in `68 was George Wallace, who ran as a third party candidate. Wallace did not call himself a Dixiecrat, but he was nakedly pro-segregation. Wallace got almost 10 million votes. He carried Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Arkansas, and got one electoral vote from North Carolina. Wallace knew he couldn't win, but he hoped to get enough EVs to throw the race into the House of Representatives. My mom was so scared of what this outcome would mean for the country that she planned a move to Canada if Wallace won. I spoke a little French and she was completely serious. The same mom, who disliked Nixon intensely and once said I was a Nixon-hater in the womb, was actually relieved when Nixon managed to win without the states won by Wallace. To be fair, some pro-war whites in the North adopted the Nixon Democrat label too. Widespread civil unrest following the April 4 assassination of MLK added fuel to the fire of Nixon's "law and order" appeal to fearful whites in all regions of the country. Bobby Kennedy's eloquent speech the night of April 4 cemented his support in the black community. Whites who feared Bobby might get the Democratic nomination were driven into the arms of the GOP. As most of us know, Bobby's assassination was two months later, but he had still done a lot to reinforce the Dems as the liberal/anti-war/pro civil rights party.
Many southern whites who did not want to "throw their vote away" on an independent candidate in `68 voted for Nixon but called themselves "Nixon Democrats"--because 100 years after the Civil War the "Republican" label was still too hard to swallow. By 1972 a lot of (in)famous GOP players who had been Democrats in the early 1960s had all switched to the Republican Party: Ronald Reagan in 62, Strom Thurmond in 64, Jesse Helms and Trent Lott in 72, and countless lesser known names. (I have to say that I have more respect for them for officially changing their party affiliation than I have for people like Zell Miller, who for incomprehensible reasons insisted on calling himself a Democrat to the bitter end.) Nixon in 72 was the first Republican to sweep the South, but that's a misleading way of putting it since he won 49 of the 50 states.
Roe v Wade was the straw that broke the camel's back for a lot of these Nixon Democrats, the "values voters" of their day. At first blush this does not look like a racial issue, but it is easily connected to a general campaign of intolerance. Dem support for civil rights was bad enough, but when wives get uppity as a result of women's rights, it pushes deep buttons among while male voters already fearing the loss of their former power and influence.
By the time we get around to "Reagan Democrats" in the 1980s, some of these so-called Democrats have been voting Republican for 20 years. Republican nominees since then have started their electoral vote planning by being able to count on the Solid South. Whether people were registered Republican or not was irrelevant, so long as they voted "R" at the top of the ticket. Clinton and Carter benefited from Southern roots and won a few states, but we all know what happened to Mondale and Dukakis and Gore and Kerry.
When Condi et al. claim in 2004 that blacks should vote Republican because Republicans are responsible for the civil rights gains of the early 60s they are not entirely wrong. Yes, it was Southern Democrats and unreconstructed Dixiecrats who filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yes it was a Republican senator, Everett Dirksen, working with Hubert Humphrey, who pulled together key Republicans for that historic cloture vote. But those Republicans are not the Republican Party of now. Almost all the moderate/liberal Republicans who were able and willing to work both sides of the aisle in those days have been driven out of the party. The power structure of the GOP in 2004 is thoroughly dominated by the white male Southern Democrats who switched parties in opposition to civil rights initiatives, and the younger Republicans who grew up admiring them. When Strom Thurmond died he still held the personal filibuster record of 24 hours 18 minutes--he was trying to stop the Civil Rights Act of 1957. And Trent Lott was unashamed to speculate that the country would have been better off if Thurmond had won the Presidency in 1948.
I find it really interesting that there was almost zero emphasis in 2004 on the concept of "Democrats for Bush". There was no need. It seems that a large segment of the people who have been voting Republican for the last 40 years have finally stopped calling themselves Democrats. Finally. Equally interesting but for sad and different reasons, some of the voter suppression activities outlawed by the Voting Rights Act of 65 appear to have reared their ugly heads again in 2004. Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.
History lesson over, again with apologies to those who know/lived all this.
If Lyndon Johnson is right about his "fifty years" prediction, then perhaps we can hope for a natural realignment to occur sometime around 2014. I hate to keep holding up Barack Obama as the great black hope, but he (or Harold Ford) might have a chance to reinstate the Roosevelt Coalition: Black and white liberals in the north, blacks in the South, and some Southern whites who will respond to his ability to talk about economic justice, social justice and other progressive values in terms of the gospel imperative. Obama also has the personality to draw in some non-voters and fire up the previously apathetic. If a charismatic Southerner I've never heard of from the farm team is ready to run in '08 or '12, I wish s/he would step up pretty soon.
When Republicans tell me to "get over" the election(s) of 2000 (and 2004) because "you lost and we won and that's the end of it" I always ask them if they say the same thing to Southerners who are still licking their wounds almost 150 years after losing the Civil War. Haven't met a GoOPer with an answer to that one yet.
My favorite post on the Aethern thread was when Rithmck said "Race explains voting patterns in the South. Not sweet tea. Deal with it. Stop trying to obscure it."
My sentiments exactly.
If anyone has an explanation for all of the above Southern voting patterns that does not start and end with race, please share it with the rest of the class.