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Why did the Democrats Lose the South? Bringing New Data to an Old Debate

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  • Ilyana Kuziemko
  • Ebonya Washington

Abstract

After generations of loyalty, Southern whites left the Democratic party en masse in the second half of the twentieth century. To what extent did Democrats' 1960s Civil Rights initiatives trigger this exodus, versus Southern economic development, rising political polarization or other trends that made the party unattractive to Southern whites? The lack of data on racial attitudes and political preferences spanning the 1960s Civil Rights era has hampered research on this central question of American political economy. We uncover and employ such data, drawn from Gallup surveys dating back to 1958. From 1958 to 1961, conservative racial views strongly predict Democratic identification among Southern whites, a correlation that disappears after President Kennedy introduces sweeping Civil Rights legislation in 1963. We find that defection among racially conservative whites explains all (three-fourths) of the decline in relative white Southern Democratic identification between 1958 and 1980 (2000). We offer corroborating quantitative analysis—drawn from sources such as Gallup questions on presidential approval and hypothetical presidential match-ups as well as textual analysis of newspapers—for the central role of racial views in explaining white Southern dealignment from the Democrats as far back as the 1940s.

Suggested Citation

  • Ilyana Kuziemko & Ebonya Washington, 2015. "Why did the Democrats Lose the South? Bringing New Data to an Old Debate," NBER Working Papers 21703, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21703
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    7. Alexandre Mas & Enrico Moretti, 2009. "Racial Bias in the 2008 Presidential Election," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 323-329, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bernini, Andrea & Facchini, Giovanni & Testa, Cecilia, 2018. "Race, Representation and Local Governments in the US South: the effect of the Voting Rights Act," CEPR Discussion Papers 12774, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Robert J. Shiller, 2017. "Narrative Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(4), pages 967-1004, April.
    3. Ang, Desmond, 2018. "Do 40-Year-Old Facts Still Matter? Long-Run Effects of Federal Oversight under the Voting Rights Act," Working Paper Series rwp18-033, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • N92 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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