Politics of the Southern United States

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Politics of the Southern United States (or Southern politics) refers to the political landscape of the Southern United States. Due to the region's unique cultural and historic heritage, the American South has been prominently involved in numerous political issues faced by the United States as a whole, including States' rights, slavery, Reconstruction and the American Civil Rights Movement. The region was a "Solid South" voting heavily for Democratic candidates for president, and for state and local offices, from the 1870s to the 1960s. Its Congressmen gained seniority and controlled many committees. In presidential politics the South moved into the Republican camp in 1968 and ever since, with exceptions when the Democrats nominated a Southerner. Since the 1990s control of state and much local politics has turned Republican in every state.


The Southern United States as defined by the United States Census Bureau.[1] The "South" and its regions are defined in various ways, however.

According to the United States Census Bureau the following states are considered part of the "south."

Other definitions can be more exclusive or more expansive. This represents a region of the United States with a diverse physical and cultural geography.[citation needed]

After the Civil War[edit]

Most white ex-Confederate voters were disenfranchised for a while during the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. White Democrats regained power by the late 1870s, and began to pass laws to restrict black voting in a period they came to refer to as Redemption. From 1890–1908 states of the former Confederacy passed statutes and amendments to their state constitutions that effectively disfranchised most blacks and tens of thousands of poor whites in the South through devices such as poll taxes, and literacy tests.[2]

In the 1890s the white South split bitterly, with poor cotton farmers moving to the Populist movement. In coalition with the remaining Republicans the Populists briefly controlled Alabama and North Carolina. The local elites, based in courthouse rings and including the townspeople and the landowners fought back, and regained control of the Democratic party by 1898. However they had to reject the pro-gold, pro-Cleveland Bourbon Democrats and anchor the South in favor of inflationary free silver and march to the tune of William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1896, 1900 and 1908.[3]


During the 20th century, civil rights for blacks was a central issue of Southern politics. They were second class citizens with limited political rights before 1964.

1948: Dixiecrat revolt[edit]

Many Deep South Southern Democrats bolted the Democratic Convention over Harry's Truman's civil rights platform.[4] They met at Birmingham, Alabama, and formed yet another political party, which they named the "States' Rights" Democratic Party. More commonly known as the "Dixiecrats," the party's main goal was continuing the policy of racial segregation in the South and the Jim Crow laws that sustained it. South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond, who had led the walkout, became the party's presidential nominee, and Mississippi Governor Fielding L. Wright received the vice-presidential nomination. Thurmond had a moderate position in South Carolina politics, but he now became the symbol of die-hard segregation.[5] The Dixiecrats had no chance of winning the election themselves, since they could not get on the ballot in enough states. Their strategy was to take enough Southern states from Truman to force the election into the House of Representatives, where they could then extract concessions from either Truman or Dewey on racial issues in exchange for their support. Even if Dewey won the election outright, the Dixiecrats hoped that their defection would show that the Democratic Party needed Southern support in order to win national elections, and that this fact would weaken the pro-civil rights movement among Northern and Western Democrats. However, the Dixiecrats were weakened when most Southern Democratic leaders (such as Governor Herman Talmadge of Georgia and "Boss" E. H. Crump of Tennessee) refused to support the party. Despite being an incumbent President, Truman was not placed on the ballot in Alabama. In the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, the party was able to be labeled as the main Democratic Party ticket on the local ballots on election night.[6] Outside of these four states, however, it was only listed as a third-party ticket.[7]

The Civil Rights Movement[edit]

Between 1955 and 1968, a movement toward desegregation gained ground in the American South. While many individuals and organizations participated in the movement's early years, dating back to the start of the 20th century, in the 1950s-1960s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were highly influential in carrying out a strategy of non-violent protests and demonstrations. Black churches were prominent in organizing their congregations for moral leadership and protest. Protesters rallied against racial[8] laws, through such events as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Selma to Montgomery marches, the Birmingham campaign, the Greensboro sit-in of 1960, and the March on Washington in 1963.

Legal changes came in the mid-1960s when President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through Congress over the vehement objects of Southern Democrats the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It effectively ending segregation. He also pushed through the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which enabled the federal government to guarantee black voting rights.[9] The leading black spokesman was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued his political activism, but his opposition to the Vietnam War brought him into conflict with President Johnson and the labor unions that had been powerful supporters.[10]

The South becomes Republican[edit]

For nearly a century after Reconstruction, the white South identified with the Democratic Party. The Democrats' lock on power was so strong the region was called the Solid South, although the Republicans controlled parts of the Appalachian mountains and they competed for statewide office in the border states. Before 1948, southern Democrats believed that their party, with its respect for states' rights and appreciation of traditional southern values, was the defender of the southern way of life. Southern Democrats warned against aggressive designs on the part of Northern liberals and Republicans and civil rights activists whom they denounced as "outside agitators."

The adoption of the strong civil rights plank by the 1948 convention and President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9981, which provided for equal treatment and opportunity for African-American servicemen, drove a wedge between the northern and southern wings of the party.[11]

By 1948 the national Democratic Party began to embrace the civil rights movement, and its argument that Southern whites had to vote Democratic to protect segregation grew weaker. Modernization had brought factories, national businesses, and larger, more cosmopolitan cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte, and Houston to the South, as well as millions of migrants from the North and more opportunities for higher education. They did not bring a heritage of racial segregation, and instead gave priority to modernization and economic growth.[12]

Integration and the civil rights movement caused enormous controversy in the white South, with many attacking it as a violation of states' rights. When segregation was outlawed by court order and by the Civil Rights acts of 1964 and 1965, a die-hard element resisted integration, led by Democratic governors Orval Faubus of Arkansas, Lester Maddox of Georgia, and especially George Wallace of Alabama. These populist governors appealed to a less-educated, blue-collar electorate that on economic grounds favored the Democratic Party, but opposed desegregation.

Sensing an opening in the "Solid South," the Republican Party gained political support among many white people in the South through the use of coded racial issues, which came to be called the Southern strategy.[13][14][15][16][17] Meanwhile, newly enfranchised Black voters began supporting Democratic candidates at the 80-90-percent levels, producing Democratic leaders such as Julian Bond and John Lewis of Georgia, and Barbara Jordan of Texas. Just as Martin Luther King had promised, integration had brought about a new day in Southern politics.

In addition to its base among northern newcomers, businessmen and the white middle-class, Republicans attracted strong majorities among evangelical Christians, who prior to the 1980s were largely apolitical. Exit polls in the 2004 presidential election showed that Bush led Kerry by 70–30% among Southern whites, who comprised 71% of the voters. Kerry had a 90–9 lead among the 18% of Southern voters who were black. One-third of the Southern voters said they were white evangelicals; they voted for Bush by 80–20.[18]

Twenty-first century[edit]

A map of the Southern United States, showing which party controls each Governorship and US state legislatures (as of 2013)
  States with Republican supermajorities in both state chambers and a Republican Governor
  States with Republican supermajorities in one chamber, one state chamber controlled by Republicans, and a Republican Governor
  States with Republicans controlling both state chambers and a Republican Governor
  States with Republicans controlling both state chambers and a Democratic Governor
  States with Republicans controlling one state chambers, one state chamber controlled by Democrats, and a Democratic Governor
  States with Republican supermajorities in one state chamber, one state chamber controlled by Democrats, and a Democratic Governor
  States with Democratic supermajorities in both state chambers and a Democratic Governor
  States with Democratic supermajorities in one state chamber, one state chamber controlled by Democrats, and a Democratic Governor
  States with Democratic controlling both state chambers and a Democratic Governor
A map of the Southern United States, showing voter demographics
  40-49% Republican
  30-39% Republican
  40-49% Democratic
  50-59% Democratic

While the general trend in the south has been increasing dominance of the Republican in the region, politics in the first quarter of the twenty-first century are just as contentious and competitive as any time in the region's history. States such as Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina have become swing states; all three of which voting for Barack Obama in the 2008 United States Presidential Election, as well as in 2012 for Florida and Virginia. Some election experts have speculated that Georgia could become a swing state in 2016 and Texas potentially joining them in the future. This can be explained by the fact that these states are experiencing a decline in their rural populations, an increase in their urban population, an influx of people from more liberal areas, as well as becoming more ethnically diverse.[19]

Political views and affiliations in the South
Political views and affiliations % living in the South
Hard-Pressed Democrats[20] 48 48
Disaffected[20] 41 41
Bystander[20] 40 40
Main Street Republicans[20] 40 40
New Coalition Democrats[20] 40 40
Staunch Conservative[20] 38 38
Post-Modern[20] 31 31
Libertarian[20] 28 28
Solid Liberal[20] 26 26

LGBT rights[edit]


As of October 27, 2014, same-sex marriage is currently legal in the following Southern jurisdictions: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, and West Virginia. Judges in Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, and Texas have struck down their state's same-sex marriage bans and those decisions are currently waiting on appeal.

In September 2004, Louisiana became the first state adopt a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in the South. This was followed by Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Oklahoma in November 2004, Texas in 2005, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia in 2006, Florida in 2008, and finally North Carolina in 2012. North Carolina became the 30th state to adopt a state constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. Federal courts have repeatedly struck down state laws and state constitutional bans. Appeals are under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.[21]

Public opinion[edit]

A Washington Post/ABC News poll from February–March 2014 found 50% of Southerns support same-sex marriage, 42% oppose, and 8% have no opinion on the issue.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Regions and Divisions—2007 Economic Census". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  2. ^ Michael Perman, Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South (2009)
  3. ^ C. Vann Woodward, The Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (1951)
  4. ^ Harvard Sitkoff, "Harry Truman and the Election of 1948: The Coming of Age of Civil Rights in American Politics", Journal of Southern History Vol. 37, No. 4 (Nov., 1971), pp. 597–616 in JSTOR
  5. ^ Jack Bass, and Marilyn W. Thompson, Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond (2005).
  6. ^ http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-1366
  7. ^ Kari Frederickson, The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932–1968 (2001)
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Randall Woods, LBJ: Architect of American Ambition (2006)
  10. ^ Taylor Branch, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (2013)
  11. ^ Littlejohn, Jeffrey L., and Charles H. Ford. "Truman and Civil Rights." in Daniel S. Margolies, ed. A Companion to Harry S. Truman (2012) p 287.
  12. ^ Byron E. Shafer, The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South (2006) ch 6
  13. ^ Herbert, Bob (October 6, 2005). "Impossible, Ridiculous, Repugnant". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 22, 2012. 
  14. ^ Boyd, James (May 17, 1970). "Nixon's Southern strategy: 'It's All in the Charts'" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  15. ^ Carter, Dan T. From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994.
  16. ^ Branch, Taylor (1999). Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 242. ISBN 0-684-80819-6. OCLC 37909869. 
  17. ^ Herbert, Bob (November 13, 2007). "Righting Reagan's Wrongs?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 22, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Exit Polls". CNN. 2004-11-02. Retrieved 2006-11-18. 
  19. ^ "Sweet Georgia Blue: Why Democrats Should Be Bullish on the Peach State". Huffington Post. 2013-06-13. Retrieved 2014-01-14. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i Beyond Red vs Blue
  21. ^ Erik Eckholmmarch, "Wave of Appeals Expected to Turn the Tide on Same-Sex Marriage Bans," New York Times March 22, 2014
  22. ^ Washington Q: Overall, do you support or oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?


  • Bartley, Numan V. The New South, 1945-1980 (1995), broad survey
  • Billington, Monroe Lee. The Political South in the 20th Century (Scribner, 1975). ISBN 0-684-13983-9.
  • Black, Earl, and Merle Black. Politics and Society in the South (1989) excerpt and text search
  • Bullock III, Charles S. and Mark J. Rozell, eds. The New Politics of the Old South: An Introduction to Southern Politics (2007) state-by-state coverage excerpt and text search
  • Cunningham, Sean P. Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right. (2010).
  • Grantham. Dewey. The Democratic South (1965)
  • Guillory, Ferrel, “The South in Red and Purple: Southernized Republicans, Diverse Democrats,” Southern Cultures, 18 (Fall 2012), 6–24.
  • Key, V. O. and Alexander Heard. Southern Politics in State and Nation (1949), a famous classic
  • Perman, Michael. Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South (2009)
  • Shafer, Byron E., and Richard Johnston. The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Steed, Robert P. and Laurence W. Moreland, eds. Writing Southern Politics: Contemporary Interpretations and Future Directions (2006); historiography & scholarly essays excerpts & text search
  • Tindall, George Brown. The Emergence of the New South, 1913-1945 (1967), influential survey
  • Twyman, Robert W. and David C. Roller, ed. Encyclopedia of Southern History (LSU Press, 1979) ISBN 0-8071-0575-9.
  • Woodard, J. David. The New Southern Politics (2006) 445pp
  • Woodward, C. Vann. The Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (1951), a famous classic