In American politics, the “Southern Strategy” refers to a Republican Party strategy in the late 20th century of gaining political support for presidential candidates in the Southern United States by appealing to regional racial tensions and history of segregation, writes Wikipedia. Does the strategy continue today?
In the mid 1960s – a period of social turmoil – Republican Presidential candidates Senator Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon worked to attract southern white conservative voters to their candidacies and the Republican Party.
In the 1964 presidential election, Goldwater won five formerly Confederate states of the “Deep South” – which included Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina – but he otherwise won only in his home state of Arizona.
After federal civil rights legislation was passed via bipartisan votes, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, more than 90 percent of black voters registered with the Democratic Party. Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was the President at the time.
The VRA provided tools to end their decades-long disenfranchisement by southern states. Hundreds of cases have been litigated to change election systems, such as at-large voting, that have prevented even significant minorities from electing candidates of their choice for city and county positions.
In the 1968 presidential campaign, Nixon won Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee, which were all former Southern Confederate states. This contributed to the “electoral realignment” of white voters in some Southern states to the Republican Party.
Even Nixon’s “Watergate” scandal didn’t affect the success of the “Southern Strategy.” It succeeded beyond what even Nixon could have imagined, writes Bloomberg News. It set off a political situation in which the “Solid South” abandoned an attachment to the Democrats dating to the Civil War. In 1980, Ronald Reagan carried the entire South except for Jimmy Carter’s home state of Georgia. In 1994, a gain of 19 House seats in the South enabled the Republican takeover of Congress.
As the twentieth century came to a close, most white voters in the South had shifted to the Republican Party. Republicans supposedly began to try to appeal again to black voters and rebuild the political relationship that had lasted through the 1920s, though with little success, writes Wikipedia.
In 2005, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologized to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a national civil rights organization, for exploiting racial polarization to win elections and ignoring the black vote.
To this day, the Deep South is reliably Republican, writes Bloomberg News. However, demographics in the U.S. are changing.
The last rural white Democrat in Congress, Representative John Barrow of Georgia, was defeated in the November midterms last year. In its right-wing politics, cultural outlook, and relationship with racial minorities, the Republican Party is thoroughly “Southernized.” This has alienated former Republican voters on the West Coast and in New England, a historical bastion of the Grand Old Party that’s almost as bereft of congressional Republicans as the South is of Democrats.