The Transformation of the Southern Democratic Party
Author(s): Merle Black
Source: The Journal of Politics, Vol. 66, No. 4, (Nov., 2004), pp. 1001-1017
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Southern Political Science
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The Transformationof the Southern Democratic Party
Merle Black
The transformationof the Democratic party during the past century is an importantinstitutional
change in southern politics. Once the unchallenged majority party of the region, Democrats have
declined to the level of a competitive minority party in the South as majorities of white conservatives and many white moderateshave abandonedit. Even more consequentialchanges have occurred
in its racial, ethnic, and gender composition.A party originallycreatedby racist southernwhite men
to enhance and maintain their perceived interests has now become the political home of African
Americans, liberal and moderatewhites, and Hispanics.
During the past half-centuryfew institutionsin the United States have changed
as fundamentallyas the Democratic party in the South. Tumultuouschanges in
southernsociety, culture,economy, and polity, combined with equally important
changes in the ideological positioning of the national political parties, have
destroyedthe Democraticparty’smonopoly of voters and leaders in the nation’s
largestregion (Aistrup 1996; Black and Black 1987, 1992; Bullock 1988; Bullock
and Rozell 2003; Carey, Ransom, and Woodard2002; Lamis 1999). A party
created and used by conservative southernwhites to defend and enhance their
perceived interests in local, state, regional, and national politics (Heard 1952;
Key 1949) has become the political home of AfricanAmericans,liberaland moderate whites, and Hispanics. Conservativewhites have less and less influenceand interest-in the new southernDemocraticparty with each passing decade.
The emergenceof the Republicanpartyas a realistic alternativeto the Democrats is the most dramaticstory in southernpolitics duringthe late twentiethand
early twenty-firstcenturies(Black and Black 2002; Rhodes 2000). A Republican
advantage in federal elections and gubernatorialcontests, combined with the
party’s increasingly competitive position in contests for other state offices and
many local positions in the 11 statesof the formerConfederacy,arehugely important breakswith the historical Democraticjuggernaut.
Southern Republican gains in officeholders have been grounded in a transformedelectorate.A partythatclaimed merely 11%of the region’svoters in 1952
had climbed to 44% of its voters by 2002. Even more fundamentalchange, of
course, had occurred among southern white voters: a majority-53%-were
Republicansin 2002. In that election, 75% of conservativewhite voters thought
Vol.66, No. 4, November2004, Pp. 1001-1017
? 2004 SouthernPoliticalScience Association
Merle Black
of themselves as Republicanswhile only 10%were Democrats.Republicansalso
held a smallerlead overDemocrats,39 to 30%,amongthe South’smoderatewhite
voters. The realignmentof conservativewhite voters into the Republicanparty,
combined with the shift of smaller numbers of moderate whites into the GOP,
has createda large and potent grassrootsbase of supporters,activists, contributors, and candidatesin the regional electorate (Black and Black 2002, 205-40).
SouthernRepublicanscan now raise money, wage serious campaigns,and often
defeat Democrats for many national, state, and local offices.
White men, traditionallythe backbone of the southernDemocraticparty,are
now far more likely to be Republicansthan Democrats. Southernwhite women,
once nearly as monolithicallyDemocratic as white men, are also more likely to
be Republicansthan Democrats.African Americans, long subject to racism and
exclusion from the ballot in the South, began to reenterthe electorate in large
numbers as Democrats duringthe 1960s, and they have emerged as the largest
group of reliably Democratic voters in the region. More recently growing
numbersof Hispanicvoters,primarilyin FloridaandTexas,have enteredthe electorate and have contributedto partisandiversity.
My subjectis the reshapingof the southernDemocraticparty as a competitive
political institution.The relativesize of the Democraticpartyin the southernelectorate has clearly shrunk during the past 50 years. The emergence of AfricanAmericanand Hispanic voters, combined with the partisanrealignmentof white
voters, has also transformedthe racial, ethnic, and gender composition of the
southernDemocratic party in the electorate.The party of white supremacyhas
become the party of racial inclusion and ethnic diversity. A party originally
created by white men has become a party numericallydominatedat the grassroots by white, black, and Hispanic women.
The southern Democratic party in the government,however, only partially
reflectsthese changes in its mass base. Most of the Democratselected to statewide
office in the South continueto be white men, althoughto a lesser extent than in
the past. Congressionaland legislative seats held by southernDemocratsshow a
ratherdifferentpattern.White male dominationis much less marked,andAfrican
Americans and Hispanics hold sizeable minorities of these positions. White
women, however,remain far underrepresentedamong Democratic-electedofficials in proportionto their size in the Democratic electorate.
ShrinkingDemocrats in the Southern Electorate
A good way to understandthe challenges facing the contemporaryDemocratic party in the South is to examine the tremendouserosion of its electoral base
during the past half-century.Figure 1, which plots the percentages of southern
voters who identifiedas Democratsor Republicansfrom 1952 to 2002, shows the
transformationof the southern one-party system into a competitive two-party
system. The data for 1952 to 1974 are from the National Election Study 11-state
sample of southernrespondentswho claimed to have voted in the year they were
The Transformationof the SouthernDemocraticParty
Party Identification:All Southerners
. Democrats
70 –

60 –
ik ^
‘ +
c 50-
-…- P”

40 –
20 –
I 1

1952 1956 1960 1964 1968 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000
surveyed.The 1976 to 2002 results come from the much largersamples of southern voters in the networkexit polls. The resultsfrom 1976 to 1982 arebased upon
a slightly largerregional sample (Oklahomaand Kentuckyin additionto the 11
states of the old Confederacy).The presence of a state variablein the exit polls
from 1984 to the presentallows an 11-statesample to be constructedfor the subsequent elections.
In 1952 the South was the most importantexample of a one-partypolitical
system in the United States. The Democratic party claimed 77% of southern
Merle Black
voters. Democratic identificationfunctioned as a culturalnorm. Any wavering
from this identity, any willingness to think of oneself as an “independent”or,
scarcelyimaginable,to conceive of oneself as a “Republican,”were signs of deviation from regional orthodoxy.
For a variety of reasons-the rise of an urbanizedmiddle class, the growth of
the civil rights movement and federal intervention in civil rights during the
administrationof President Lyndon B. Johnson, the activation of conservative
white religious groups, and increased campaigning by Republican candidates
in the South-the size of the Democratic majority among southern voters
contractedenormously during the next three decades (Bass and DeVries 1976;
Beck 1977; Black 1976; Black and Black 1987). Even with the addition of
hundreds of thousands of newly mobilized African Americans, by the end of
the turbulent1960s fewer than three of every five southernvoters were Democrats. The presidential election of 1976, when Georgia Democrat Jimmy
Carter carried 10 of the 11 southern states, was the last occasion in which
the Democratic party claimed support from a comfortable majority (55%) of
RepublicanRonald Reagan’spresidency drove the Democrats into permanent
minority status in the southernelectorate.When Reagan easily defeated liberal
northernDemocratWalterMondale in 1984 only 37% of southernvoters called
themselves Democrats. Since then the Democraticparty has never come close to
a majorityof southernvoters. In the 2002 exit poll, Democrats claimed 36% of
the region’s voters. Democrats clearly constitutea minorityparty in the modem
Democraticlosses duringthe Reagan era were accompanied,for the firsttime,
by sharplyrising numbersof southernvoters who actually identified as Republicans. The GOP,of course, had always been a minorityparty in the South, and
even after the surge of the 1980s, it has remained a minority.Before Reagan’s
presidency made Republicanismsocially respectable for many white southerners, the size of the party’sbase in the southernelectorate had always been too
small to support sustained, serious, and financially viable challengers in most
statewide and local elections. In the 1984 election, Republican identification
among southernvoters, accordingto the exit poll, increasedsharplyto 36%, only
one point below Democraticstrength.In the 2002 exit poll 44% of southernvoters
were Republicans,eight percentagepoints higher than the southernerswho still
called themselves Democrats.
The Democraticparty’sbiggest problem in the moder South is its weakness
among white voters. Figure 2 chartsthe changingpercentagesof southernwhite
voters who have identified as Democrats or Republicansfrom 1952 to 2002. It
documents the demise of Democratic identificationas a cultural norm among
southernwhite voters. A substantialDemocratic advantagein partisanshippersisted throughthe 1982 election. Beginning in 1984, however,and continuingin
every subsequentpresidentialelection, more southernwhite voters have identified as Republicans than Democrats. By 1990, the first off-year election after

The Transformationof the SouthernDemocraticParty
Party Identification: White Southerners
80 –
, Democrats
Republican white target

+ ~~
C 40-
Democratic white target
*l I
f 30-13
10 –
– – – – — – –

I I 1992
1956 1960 1964 1968 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988
1996 2000
1952 1956 1960 1964 1968 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000
Reagan’spresidencyhad ended,Republicanswere essentially even with Democrats in the white southernelectorate.In the subsequentoff-year elections Republicans have opened up increasingly wide margins over Democrats. The
Republicanparty strengthenedand consolidatedits lead among white southerners in the 1990s (Bullock, Gaddie,and Hoffman2002; Knuckey2001). By 2002,
accordingto the exit poll, merely 26% of white southernvoters were Democrats,
the lowest level of identificationever observed in the region.
Merle Black
The Collapsing Monopoly of Democratic Officials
These partisanchanges in the electorate, both influenced and acted upon by
Republicancandidates,have destroyedthe Democraticparty’scomplete control
of southernofficeholding.Table 1 contraststhe Democrats’virtualmonopoly of
political offices in the South in 1950-1951 with the party’s greatly reduced
strengthamong elected public officials in 2003. In 1950 all of the region’s 22
U.S. senatorswere Democrats,as were 103 of its 105 members in the House of
Representatives.Every public official elected to a statewide office was a Democrat, and members of the majorityparty accounted for 97% of the region’s state
legislators in 1951. Finally, Democrats dominated the bottom of the regional
office-holdinghierarchy.While the absence of official recordsof partisanshipfor
many of the region’s counties and parishes makes an exact count impossible,
Democrats-white men, for the most part-surely held almost all locally elected
offices in the South.
Fifty years laterthe Democraticmonopoly of offices has vanished.The party’s
grip on political power now varies by office. Republicanpoliticians hold majorities of the South’smost highly prized public offices-governorships and seats in
the United States Senate and House of Representatives(Black 1998). Sizeable
Democraticmajoritiesstill persist in local offices, as well as smallerDemocratic
majoritiesin state legislaturesand statewide offices below the level of governor.
Indeed, because of persisting Democratic strength in the vast number of local
offices, a majorityof the region’s elected public officials are still Democrats.
Elections to federal office involve the widest range of domestic and foreign
policy issues, and Democrats have experiencedtheir greatest losses in contests
for these positions. In 2003 Democratsheld only nine of the region’s 22 Senate
seats, 55 of its 131 seats in the House of Representatives,and four of the 11 governorships.Democratsdid considerablybetter(57%) in the other statewideexecutive offices, but they had declined to only 52% of the region’s state legislative
seats in 2003.
The Democrats’greatestcontinuityas a regionalmajoritypartyappearsin local
offices. The absence of complete evidence, however,makes precise generalizaTABLE 1
Percent Democratic of Elected Officials in South
U.S. Senators
Other StatewideOffices
U.S. House of Representatives
State Legislators
Sources: Congressional Quarterly’sGuide to US. Elections, Third Edition, and relevantofficial
state web sites.
The Transformationof the SouthernDemocraticParty
tion difficultaboutpast and currentpartisancontrol of these positions. Scattered
evidence across the region shows Democrats still in control of most county
offices, often with commanding leads, though surely by less lopsided margins
than in the past. Forexample, in 1991, accordingto a studyby CharlesS. Bullock
III, Democratsaccountedfor 88% of Georgia’scounty commissioners(1993, 4).
A decade later, in 2001, 68% of the state’s county commissioners were still
Democrats.H. Gibbs Knotts’sstudy of the partisanshipof North Carolinacounty
commissioners found that “Republicansincreased local officeholding in North
Carolinaduringthe 1990s.”The Republicansaveraged31% of the membership
of county commissions in 1992 and by 2000 had increased to 42% (2003, 6).
Democrats still outnumberedRepublicans in North Carolina local offices, but
their majoritywas considerablysmaller edge than in the past.
Although reduced to the status of a competitive minority party in the electorate, the southernDemocratic party is still capable of fielding quality candidates and winning many federal, state, and local elections. It does so, however,
by mobilizing a very differentelectoral coalition than in the past. The mass base
of the modern Democraticparty in the South has been reshapedby the entry of
new groups and the exit of old groups.
Race, Ethnicity, and Gender: The Legacy of the Founding
The one-partySouth solidified duringthe last decade of the nineteenthcentury
and the first decade of the twentiethcentury.Using violence and intimidation,as
well as writingnew constitutionsand suffragelaws, racistwhite males ruthlessly
eliminated virtually all black men and many lower-statuswhite men from the
southernelectorate.In TheShapingof SouthernPolitics, J. MorganKousserinterpreted these developmentsas a “reactionaryrevolution”(1974, 261-65). More
recently,in Strugglefor Mastery, Michael Permancharacterizedthe period as a
“Restoration”of white rule based on techniques of “voterelimination”(Perman
2001, 11). Politicalpowerin the shrunkensouthernelectoratebecame completely
lodged among white male Democrats.Throughoutmuch of the twentiethcentury
white men dominated the preeminentpolitical party in the most transparently
undemocraticregion of the nation.
Eliminatingfrom the electorate a group that constitutednearly a third of the
region’s entire population (after women had gained the right to vote in 1920)
deprivedmillions of black citizens of any representationin the South’s elective
institutionsfor generations(Bunche 1973; Kluger 1976; Litwack 1998). Racial
segregationandthe systematicrestrictionof opportunitiesfor blacksbecame even
more entrenchedin the region. While racial matterswere not the only priorities
and concerns of southernDemocrats, preserving white power by concentrating
all their resources in the Democratic party was their abiding interest in local,
state, and nationalpolitics.
At the mid-pointof the twentiethcenturymany of the originalpolitical devices
and techniques that supportedthe institutions of southern racism were still in
Merle Black
place. African Americans made up 25% of the region’s populationbut only 5%
of its voters. The most interestingchange in the southernelectorateby 1952 was
the growing importanceof white female voters. According to the 1952 National
Election Study survey,white women (48%) were essentially at paritywith white
men (47%) in the southernelectorate.
The southernone-partypolitical culture, created by conservativewhite men,
remained intact. Among southernwhite men who said they had voted in 1952,
Democrats outnumberedRepublicans,79% to 7%. Southernwhite women were
only slightly less Democratic (75%) and somewhatmore Republican(15%). By
the 1950s little remained of historical black Republicanism.Most of the very
small numberof southernblack voters sampled in the NES surveys duringthis
decade were alreadyDemocrats.
During the last half-centurythe Democratic party’s declining strengthin the
region has been strongly affected by the vastly differentpartisanpreferencesof
white, black, and Hispanic voters. Due to the small numbersamong the various
subgroupsin each survey,we have averagedby decade the percentagesof southern white men, southernwhite women, southernAfrican-Americanmen, southern African-Americanwomen, and Hispanics who have identifiedas Democrats.
Because so few blacks voted in the South in the 1950s, Democratic identification among black male and female voters begins in the 1960s. Even smaller
numbers of Hispanics appear in these surveys. This group is not presented by
gender and tracking begins in the 1970s. Figure 3 shows average Democratic
party identificationby race and gender in each decade from the 1950s through
In the 1950s virtually all votes cast in the South came from white men and
women. With so little of the regional vote cast by blacks, successful statewide
election strategynearlyalways requiredDemocraticcandidatesto win majorities
of the white vote. The civil rights movement and national civil rights legislation
during the 1960s broughthundredsof thousandsof African Americans into the
active electorate.As Figure3 shows, the vast majorityof southernblack votersmale and female-were Democrats.By the 1970s black women became slightly
more Democratic than black men, a patternthat has persisted over time. In the
2000 presidentialelection, 90% of female black voters in the region were Democrats comparedto 82% of male African-Americanvoters. At the end of the twentieth centuryAfrican-Americanvoters in the South as a group were even more
monolithicallyDemocratic(87%)thansouthernwhite votershad been (77%) fifty
years earlier.
The mobilization of black voters duringthe 1960s fundamentallyaltered the
electoral strategy of southern Democrats. Democratic candidates in the South
who could attractsubstantialblack supportno longer needed to win majorities
of the vote cast by whites. The exact size of the white and black targets in the
Democratic biracial strategy has varied in different racial contexts, but at the
regional level, the conventionalminimum-winningDemocratictargetshave been
about 90% of the black vote combined with about 40% of the white vote (Black
The Transformationof the SouthernDemocraticParty
Democratic Party Identification in the South
Democratic black target
Black women
.m-, ,
80 –
,,i” .’Black


Black men
70 A
60 –
50 –
40 –
Democraticwhite target
——- ——“–
White men
20 –
10 –
and Black 1987, 138-42; Glaser 1996, 28-31). The percentageof southernwhites
identifying as Democratsbegan to decline in the 1950s. By 1968, the first election in which majorities of African Americans were registeredto vote in every
southernstate, only a small majority of southernwhite voters still identified as
Democrats. The significance of this decline becomes clear when the numberof
white Democrats in the South is examined in relation to the party’s regional
imperativeof two-fifths of the white vote.
Merle Black
In his last majoranalysis of trendsin the South,V O. Key, Jr.conjecturedthat
southernDemocraticpartyunity “probablycould not survive anotherNew Deal”
(1955, 165). Even more devastatingfor the southernpartywas a nationalagenda
that added racial liberalism to economic liberalism. President Lyndon B.
Johnson’s Great Society programs encompassed racial liberalism-the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 and the VotingRights Act of 1965-as well as economic liberalism-Medicare, the Elementaryand Secondary EducationAct of 1965, the
War on Poverty,and a host of other expanded governmentalprograms.As Earl
Black and I arguedin 1987, “If southernDemocraticsolidaritycould not survive
anotherNew Deal, how could it possibly survive the GreatSociety?”(Black and
Black 1987, 236).
How could it also survive the Democratic party’s 1968 nominationof liberal
MinnesotaDemocratHubertHumphrey,the championof the 1948 fightto change
the party’scivil rights position at the nationalconvention,as its presidentialcandidate? FormerAlabama GovernorGeorge Wallace “scorned Republicans and
Democrats alike” in his third-partycampaign across the region in 1968 (Carter
1995, 334). Although for the entire decade of the 1960s an average of 58% of
southern white men still remained Democrats, in 1968 only 47% of southern
white male voters identifiedas Democrats. Beginning in that year-and persisting in every subsequent election year-majorities of white male voters in the
South have rejected the Democratic label. Thinking of oneself as a Democrat, a
belief that had been normative in southernwhite male culture for generations,
had clearly collapsed afterPresidentJohnson’sGreatSociety programswent into
Duringthe 1970s Democraticidentificationamong southernwhite male voters
averaged 43%, well below a large majority but still above the party’s regional
target.More drasticchanges occurredin the 1980s when the percentageof white
men identifyingas Democratsdroppedbelow 40%. The crucialturningpoint was
the 1984 presidential election between Reagan and Walter Mondale, a liberal
Minnesota Democrat: only 28% of southern white male voters identified as
Democrats. Reagan took conservativepositions on a wide range of issues: civil
rights, the role and size of the federal government,tax cuts, a strongermilitary
and nationaldefense, and conservativeculturaland religious issues. Never again,
according to the subsequentexit polls in presidentialcontests, have as much as
two-fifths of southernwhite male voters called themselves Democrats.The party
averaged only 28% from this group during the 1990s and fell to 23% in the
2000-2002 elections.
Democratic identification has also declined among southern white female
voters, althoughthey remainedloyal to the party longer than did white men. By
the 1960s, southernwhite female voters were more Democraticthan white male
voters, and even as late as the 1970s, majorities of white female voters in the
South were Democrats.In the 1980s, however,their averagelevel of Democratic
party identificationdroppedto 41%. In the 1990s Democratic identificationfell
below the 40% targetamongthis importantgroupof voters. In the 2000 and 2002
The Transformationof the SouthernDemocraticParty
exit polls only one-thirdof southernwhite female voters identifiedas Democrats.
The modern southern Democratic party’s weakness with white voters clearly
includes women as well as men.
Whathas been the impactof these changes in mass partisanshipupon the racial
and gender composition of the modern southern Democratic party? Figure 4
shows the changing relative size of four importantsubgroupsof the Democratic
party from the 1950s to 2000-2002: white men, white women, African Americans, and Hispanics. In the 1950s, white men comprised a majorityof southern
voters who called themselves Democrats.White women made up more than two-
The Changing Composition of the Southern Democratic Party
q White men
50 –
White women
30 –
X0 20-
Merle Black
fifths of southernDemocraticvoters.AfricanAmericansmade up only 5% of the
region’s Democrats.
Since the 1950s the racial, ethnic, and gender characteristicsof the southern
Democraticpartyhave been transformed.In every subsequentdecade, white men
have declined in size and AfricanAmericanshave increasedin size in the party.
Southernwhite men droppedbelow southernwhite women in the 1960s, were
aboutequal in size with AfricanAmericansin the 1980s, and fell well below both
of these groups in the 1990s. In the 2000-2002 elections, white men comprised,
on average, only 21% of southern voters who called themselves Democrats.
White men are now the thirdlargest group in the grassrootssouthernDemocratic party.
Southernwhite men had once employed the Democraticparty as their exclusive instrumentfor controllinglocal, state, and nationaloffices. A groupthat had
made up all of the region’s Democrats at the beginning of the twentiethcentury
and more than half of southernDemocratic voters in the 1950s now accounted
for only a fifth of the party’sadherentsat the beginningof the twenty-firstcentury.
As white men began to decline in size in the party,white women initiallybecame
the largest group of southern Democrats. However, white women peaked in
absolute size duringthe 1960s, and they have since declined to about one-third
of the party’sidentifiers.
In every decade since the 1960s AfricanAmericanshave increasedtheirweight
among southern Democrats. By the 1970s blacks accounted for nearly one of
every four southernDemocraticvoters.As AfricanAmericansincreasedin importance, southernDemocraticpoliticians began to constructwinning biracialcoalitions in party primariesand general elections (Bass and DeVries 1976; Black
1976). By the 1980s African Americans were equal in size to white men in the
southern Democratic party. Even more consequential changes emerged during
the 1990s when AfricanAmericanssurpassedboth white men and white women.
In the first two elections of the twenty-firstcentury,AfricanAmericansmade up,
on average, 38% of the southernvoters who identified as Democrats.
The growing size of AfricanAmericansin the mass base of the southernDemocraticpartyhas been paralleledin the last decadeby increasesin the size of black
activists in local Democraticparties. Summarizingthe conclusions of the Southern GrassrootsParty Activists 2001 Project, which surveyed more than 7,000
party activists in southernstates, Charles Prysby and John A. Clark emphasize
“the increasingpresence of blacks as importantactivists within the local Democratic organizations.In 1991, blacks were poorly representedamong the leadership of the county Democratic Party organizationsin most states. Much has
changed in ten years. Every state analysis reportsan increase in black Democratic activists. In most cases, the increase is large”(2003, 217; see also Hadley and
Stanley 1998; Steed et al. 1998).
The rest of the southern Democratic party’s adherentswere Hispanics and
membersof other ethnic groups. Hispanics are especially importantin the Texas
Democraticpartyand constitutea group of increasingimportanceamong Florida
The Transformationof the SouthernDemocraticParty
Democrats. They are much less visible in the Democratic parties of the other
southernstates, a situationwhich will surely change in the future.
Over the past half-century,the mass base of the Democraticparty in the South
has been transformed.Whites have declined from 95% to 52% of the regional
Democraticparty in the electorate,blacks have increased from 5% to 38%, and
Hispanics and other ethnic groups have grown to about 10%.Men-white men,
of course-had dominatedthe old southernDemocraticparty.The new center of
political gravity now rests with women, who comprise a substantialmajorityof
the party’sidentifiers.
Consequences for Elected DemocraticOfficials
To what extent are these changes in the racial, ethnic, and gender composition
of Democratsin the regional electoratereflectedin the characteristicsof Democrats who hold elective office? Table 2 shows the social characteristicsof southern Democraticelected officials in 2003 for U.S. senators,governors,other state
executive officials, members of the House of Representatives,and (prior to the
2003 elections) state legislators.
White men still comprisemost of the Democratselected to statewideoffice in
the South, although not to the same extent as in the past. In 2003 seven of the
region’snine DemocraticSenatorswere white men, while the othertwo southern
Democrats, Mary Landrieu(Louisiana) and Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas),were
white women. After the 2003 elections in Mississippi and Louisiana,Democrats
continuedto hold only four of the region’s eleven governorships.Three Democratic governorswere white men. In 2003 KathleenBlanco became the firstwhite
female ever to be elected governorof Louisiana.White men also accounted for
a large majorityof the region’s Democrats elected to the other statewide executive offices. A fifth of these Democraticofficials were white women, but only 7%
were AfricanAmericans.
White men continue to be overrepresentedamong elected southern Democratic officeholders. Seventy percent of all southern Democratic statewide
Diversity in the New Southern Democratic Party: Racial, Ethnic, and
Gender Composition of Elected Democratic Officials in 2003
U.S. Senate
Other State Officers
U.S. House
State Legislators
White Men
White Women
Sources. Calculatedfrom relevantofficial state Web sites and
Merle Black
officeholdersin 2003 were white men, even though they comprisedonly 21% of
the party in the electorate. White women and African Americans, men and
women, continued to be greatly underrepresentedamong Democrats elected to
statewide offices in comparisonto their contributionsto the grassrootssouthern
Democraticparty.The full impact of these changes in the mass base of the southern Democratic party has yet to emerge, but in the future more white women,
black women, and black men are likely to win Democraticpartynominationsfor
statewide office and to compete aggressively for general election victories. The
persistingchallenge for African-AmericanDemocraticcandidatesin the South
as well as elsewhere in the nation-is to win statewide elections for the most
powerful offices.
The new racial and ethnic diversity of the southernDemocraticparty’smass
base is more apparentamongthe Democratswho representconstituenciessmaller
than entire states: the U.S. House of Representativesand state legislatures.The
biggest declines in white male domination of Democratic officeholders have
occurred in the smaller constituencies of legislative bodies. In 1950 all of the
region’s 103 Democratsin the House of Representativeswere white men; by 2003
they accountedfor only 33 of the 55 southernDemocratsin Congress. Seventeen
African Americans from the South, including five females, sat in Congress and
made up 31% of the region’s Democratic delegation. Five Texas Hispanics, all
males, were the remainingsouthernHouse Democrats.
Yet there was an importantlink with the past: the absence of any white female
Democratsin the southerncongressionaldelegation.A few southernwhite female
Democrats have served in the House of Representativesin recent decades, but
the defeat in 2002 of DemocratKarenThurmondby a white female Republican,
Ginny Brown-Waite,in a redrawnFloridadistrictremovedthe only white female
Democrat in the southernDemocratic congressional delegation.
State legislative seats in the South held by Democrats show an even greater
reduction in the dominance of white men. In 2003 (before the legislative elections in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia) white men comprised barely half
(53%) of the Democrats serving in southern state legislatures, a huge decline
fromtheirhistoricalmonopoly.As in the congressionaldelegation,AfricanAmericans comprisedthe second largest group of Democraticlawmakers.There were
more white female Democratsthan in the past, but only one in nine Democratic
state legislators in the South was a white woman. Hispanic Democrats were
largely limited to Texas.
The southernDemocratic party has been reshapedin the electorate and, to a
lesser extent, in its officeholdersover the past 50 years. White men remainvastly
overrepresentedamong elected Democratic officials in comparison with their
diminishedrole in generatingvotes for southernDemocratic candidates.White
women are underrepresentedat every level of office holding. Blacks and Hispanics rarely win statewide office as Democrats, but members of these groups
have been able to win larger shares of seats in the more narrowly drawn constituencies for the U.S. House of Representativesand state legislative seats.
The Transformationof the SouthernDemocraticParty
The modern southern Democratic party at the beginning of the twenty-first
centuryhas been transformedfrom its earlierrole in Americanpolitics. Repudiating its heritage of white supremacy,it has become the institutionwith which
huge majorities of African Americans identify and through which nearly all
African-Americanpoliticians seek office. Based on the state exit polls in the
2000 election, AfricanAmericansmade up 32% of the Upper South Democratic
party (Arkansas,North Carolina,Tennessee,and Virginia)and 30% of the Mega
South Democratic party (Florida and Texas). In the Deep South (Alabama,
Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina) African Americans
accounted for a majority (52%) of Democrats, a development unique in
American history.
SouthernDemocratsmust now learn to compete effectively as a biracialparty
attractiveto only a minority of whites. The party faces two major challenges in
the modern South. Democratic candidatesfor statewide offices will need to be
liberal enough to motivateAfrican-Americanand liberal white Democrats, but
moderateenough to rally the remainingmoderatewhite Democrats and enough
white voters who no longer identify with the party.
The futurecompetitivenessof the southernDemocraticparty may hinge upon
how well it is able to attractsupportfrom white voters who think of themselves
as political moderates. Here a generational cleavage in partisan identification
threatensfuture Democratic competitiveness.While older white moderates are
still more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, younger white moderates
have shown, over the last four elections, an increasing tendency to identify as
Republicansratherthan as Democrats.
According to the most recent (2002) exit poll of southernvoters, the oldest
white moderates(60 and older)were still more DemocraticthanRepublican,45%
to 31%. White moderates aged 45 to 59, however, showed a slight Republican
advantage,38% to 31%.The real problemfacing Democratsappearedamong the
youngest white moderates,those aged 18 to 44. Among this crucial segment of
the southernelectorate,RepublicansoverwhelmedDemocratsby 26 percentage
points, 49% to 23%. A GOP advantageamong the youngest southernmoderate
white voters had also appearedin the previousthree elections: six points in 1996,
16 points in 1998, and 18 points in 2000.
Whetheror not this Republicanedge amongthe youngest white moderatespersists is, of course, unknowable.At the very least, though, low levels of Democratic identificationamong this group, combinedwith the gradualdepartureof the
older, more pro-Democraticwhite moderates,should greatly concern Democratic politicians and strategistsin the South. If this patternof generationalreplacement among white moderatevoters continues,the consequences for the southern
party system would be immense. The Democratic party’sreliable base of white
support would drop even further below the 40% target needed to construct
winning regional coalitions, whereas the Republican party’s base of support
Merle Black
might-at some point in the future-approach or exceed its regional target of
three-fifthsof southernwhite voters.
These developments, should they come to pass, would link the South’sparty
system even more firmly with its racial cleavages. The future southern party
system might display even greaterracial polarizationthan in recent decades, a
trulymelancholyoutcome for a region in which racial conflict in countless forms
has been its principaldistinguishingcharacteristicfor nearly four centuries.
I wish to thank Earl Black for valuable comments and for making the figures.
Thanksalso to JenniferNolder for researchassistance and to MatthewGunning,
BradAlexander,and TerryChapmanfor technical assistance.
Aistrup,JosephA. 1996. TheSouthernStrategyRevisited:RepublicanTop-DownAdvancementin the
South. Lexington:University Press of Kentucky.
Bass, Jack, and WalterDeVries. 1976. The Transformationof SouthernPolitics. New York:Basic
Beck, Paul Allen. 1977. “PartisanDealignment in the Postwar South.”American Political Science
Review 71(2): 477-96.
Black, Earl. 1976. Southern Governorsand Civil Rights. Cambridge:HarvardUniversityPress.
Black, Earl. 1998. “The Newest SouthernPolitics.”Journal of Politics 60(3): 591-612.
Black, Earl, and Merle Black. 1987. Politics and Society in the South. Cambridge:HarvardUniversity Press.
Black, Earl, and Merle Black. 1992. The Vital South: How Presidents are Elected. Cambridge:
HarvardUniversity Press.
Black, Earl, and Merle Black. 2002. The Rise of SouthernRepublicans. Cambridge:The Belknap
Press of HarvardUniversity Press.
Bullock III, CharlesS. 1988. “RegionalRealignmentfrom an OfficeholdingPerspective.”Journal of
Politics 50(3): 553-74.
Bullock, III, CharlesS. 1993. ThePartisan, Racial, and GenderMakeupof Georgia CountyOffices.
Athens: CarlVinson Instituteof Government,The University of Georgia.
Bullock, III, Charles S., and Mark J. Rozell, eds. 2003. The New Politics of the Old South. 2nd ed.
Lanham:Rowman & Littlefield.
Bullock, III, CharlesS., Ronald Keith Gaddie, and Donna R. Hoffman.2002. “The Consolidationof
the White SouthernCongressionalVote.”Presentedat the annualmeeting of the AmericanPolitical Science Association.
Bunche, Ralph J. 1973. ThePolitical Status of the Negro in the Age of FDR. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Carey, Robert T., Bruce W. Ransom, and J. David Woodard.2002. “Growthin Party Competition
and the Transformationof SouthernPolitics.”Presentedat the Citadel Symposium on Southern
Carter,Dan T. 1995. The Politics of Rage. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
Glaser, James M. 1996. Race, CampaignPolitics, and the Realignment in the South. New Haven:
Yale University Press.
Hadley, CharlesD., and HaroldW. Stanley. 1998. “Race and the Democratic Biracial Coalition.”In
PartyActivists in SouthernPolitics, eds. Charles D. Hadley and Lewis Bowman. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, pp. 3-23.
The Transformationof the SouthernDemocraticParty
Heard,Alexander. 1952. A Two-PartySouth? Chapel Hill: University of North CarolinaPress.
Key, Jr.,V 0. 1949. SouthernPolitics in State and Nation. New York:Knopf.
Key, Jr.,V 0. 1955. “The Erosion of Sectionalism.”VirginiaQuarterlyReview 31: 161-79.
Kluger, Richard. 1976. Simple Justice. New York:Knopf.
Knotts, H. Gibbs. 2003. “GrassrootsRepublicanism:Evaluating the Trickle Down Realignment
Theory in North Carolina.”Revised version of paperpresentedat the annualmeeting of the North
CarolinaPolitical Science Association.
Knuckey, Jonathan0. 2001. “Racial Resentment and Southern RepublicanVoting in the 1990s.”
AmericanReview of Politics 22 (Summer):257-77.
Kousser,J. Morgan. 1974. The Shaping of SouthernPolitics. New Haven:Yale University Press.
Lamis, AlexanderP. 1999. SouthernPolitics in the 1990s. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University
Litwack,Leon F 1998. Troublein Mind:Black Southernersin theAge of Jim Crow.New York:Knopf.
Perman,Michael. 2001. Strugglefor Mastery.Chapel Hill: University of North CarolinaPress.
Prysby, Charles, and John A. Clark. 2003. “Conclusion:Changes in SouthernPolitical Party Organizations and Activities.”AmericanReview of Politics 24 (Summer):213-23.
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and Activism in the AmericanSouth. Tuscaloosa:University of Alabama Press.
Merle Black is Asa G. CandlerProfessor of Politics and Government,Emory
University,Atlanta, GA 30322, (pblac0l
The Presidential Campaign in the 21st Century
I. Essay Reading: Merle Black’s Transformation of the Southern Democratic Party [27 February]
II. Essay Topic: Our class focuses on presidential campaigns, and campaign strategies. But those
strategies are rooted in the realities of contemporary politics, and one glaring reality is that the South has,
over the last half century, seen a ‘transformation’ from a solidly Democratic to a thoroughly Republican
political regime. Your task:
1. Describe the ‘transformation’ that Black considers;
2. Explain Black’s argument about both the process[es] and reasons for that transformation;
3. Consider what you see as the implications of that transformation – both for past Southern voting,
for the present, and – as Black hints in his conclusion – for the future.
4. Suggest what you see as any source[s] of hope for the Democratic Party in today’s ‘transformed’
III. Essay Rules: Your essay will include no more than five [5] transgressions of these arbitrary rules, the
generally-accepted conventions of spelling, the niceties of grammar, or the tyranny of fact. For each
subsequent transgression you will lose one-half of a grade.
1. Your essay will consist of some three to five [3 – 5] printed pieces of paper, with a title, real margins,
and page numbers.
2. Your essay will cite the title and author somewhere in the first paragraph.
3. Your essay will feature at least six [6] quotes, rendered exactly and with parenthetic notes on the page
numbers from our class version of Transformation.
4. Your essay will not use the words ‘definitely,’ ‘absolutely,’ ‘basically,’ ‘obviously,’ ‘clearly,’ ‘hopefully’ [except as an adverb], ‘reference’ or ‘gift’ [except as nouns], ‘fortunately’ or ‘unfortunately,’
‘indeed,’ ‘throughout,’1 or the phrase ‘of course’. Please note that this leaves many words and phrases
you may use.
IV. Essay Due Date: Friday, March 6th, at 5:00.
Unless, that is, you mean ‘throughout,’ and not ‘in’ or ‘during’ or ‘somewhere or other’.

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