Sunday, June 23, 2013

Where Have All The (Black) Voters Gone?

Paula Deen: Butter Enthusiast ... and Democrat
To follow up last week's post*, let's ask where all the Black voters have gone--from Republican voting rolls, I mean. After all, two things are pretty much undisputed facts:
  1. Lincoln, probably greatest president who ever lived and who fought a civil war to end slavery, was a Republican.
  2. The KKK was, by and large, founded by Democrats.
If you put these two things together one might reasonably expect black people to have some sympathy or even warm feelings towards the Republicans? What happened? Where have all the black voters gone?

Was It The Southern Strategy
Theory #1 is that Nixon and his team of political strategists decided to wrest the 'Solid South' (that is: reliably Democrat-voting blue states) away from Democrats. He, allegedly, did this by implementing the (heinous) Southern Strategy. The Southern Strategy appears to have had two main components. The first was to work in a grass-roots capacity with various local organizations to "get the word out" and the second was to use 'dog-whistle' code words around 'states-rights' and 'law-and-order' to attract racists.

Nixon, on his second run (where he took almost every state in the union) did, comparatively, very well in the southern states (although this was hardly just about race). Many people mark this as the turning point where Republicans embraced white racism and black people had to turn to the Democrats.

Is this true?

As stated? No. Not exactly.

First off, let's get a few things straight.

Sean Trende shows, to my read, reasonably conclusively that whatever did or did not happen in 1964, the 'southern realignment' was already happening--for whatever reason (he cites internal Democratic politics and the economy).

Looks Like SOMETHING Happened Right After 1944 ...
Secondly, some people (the guy is a Frederick Douglas Republican) think we've gotten the whole thing completely wrong and the facts clearly show that the 'architect' of the Southern Strategy (Kevin Phillips) never really worked for Nixon anyway--or if he did, his plan (race-based-voting) was rejected soundly.

This, you know, may or may not be so (Phillips is still alive and has not challenged his Wikipedia Page--which lists him as the architect of the Southern Strategy) but, let's be clear: there was some pretty explicit press at the time--and after--claiming that the Southern Strategy was, indeed, racism-based.

This is the "money shot quote" where Lee Atwater (Reagan strategist and former head of the RNC) says this:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
The link above to 'some guy' (Ken Raymond, Yahoo Contributor) is an interesting article where the author decides that the whole myth about the Southern Strategy comes from the NYT article, Kevin Phillips was just some guy--not even really part of the Nixon campaign--like, maybe he was interviewed as a bystander or something. Then the whole thing started with a lazy headline (serious!).

On the other hand, most people think Phillips is pretty serious business and was a part of the campaign. Here's what he said in the article:
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that...but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
Indeed, if there is a conspiracy of bullshit, previous RNC head Michael Steele bought into it:
For the last 40-plus years we had a 'Southern Strategy' that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South. Well, guess what happened in 1992, folks, 'Bubba' went back home to the Democratic Party and voted for Bill Clinton.
But let's back up. Quotes certainly speak to perception--but stats speak to reality. Trende's piece is important if only because it shows that the Southern Strategy, whatever it was, wasn't the whole story.

Was It Democrat Propaganda?
Theory #2 is that the demographic shift happened because of a savvy marketing campaign on the part of Democrats. They told black voters that Republicans--the Party of Lincoln--were racists and, for some reason, Republicans were unable to refute them.
Liberals will never tire of calling conservatives racist, because it’s always a show-stopper, a way of cutting off further debate on any issue where a liberal is likely to lose. So don’t expect it to go away any time soon. (Though why Republicans aren’t better at “punching back twice as hard,” e.g., by pointing out the permanent racist legacy of the Democratic Party, noting the vote tally for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, etc., is beyond me. Another example of Republican rhetorical incompetence.)
Indeed, there are some statistics that make this case. There's also individual data points (Hello Paula Deen--who did, indeed, campaign for Obama). She allegedly wanted to hold a 'plantation themed' party for her brother (whose restaurant, allegedly, has separate bathrooms for, uh, the 'coloreds'). If she's an Obama booster, what might the rest of the party be like?

Could it be true that Democrats are simply using racism as a tool and there's zero truth to it? Let's look at what the PowerLine article (above) is talking about: The Civil Rights Act. The Civil Rights Act (1964) made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race. Let's look at the final Senate votes by the House:
The Senate version, voted on by the House: (YEA-NAY Format)
  • Democratic Party: 153–91   (63–37%)
  • Republican Party: 136–35   (80–20%)
As you can see, the Republicans voted 80% in favor. The Democrats? A mere 63%! Who's racist now!? Let's look at that by geography (Senate vote)
The Senate version: (YEA-NAY Format)
  • Northern Republicans: 27–5   (84–16%)
One Southern (defined as states that fought for the confederacy) senator voted in favor. When we look in the north it's 98% Democrats in favor, only 84% Republicans. Who IS racist now? Frankly? If this is the sole way we judge (which would not be bright)? It isn't the Republicans or the Democrats who are both 80%+ in favor of the act ... it's the south (who vote 90% against it).

It's possible that, today at least, I might have an answer to PowerLine's Stephen Hayward's question above as to why modern Republicans (who have been solidly winning the South since around 1944) actually don't bring this up more often.

A Third Theory: Two Points On A Line
What if the answer to "what happened to the Republicans" didn't have an extremely simple answer (such as "It was the Southern Strategy!" or "It was all Democrat bullshit!")? How would we know? Well, let's look at Trende's graph: as we noted, something happened in the late 1940's and then again (the spike) in the late 1960's. Do we have any candidates? Let's look at some evidence and then speculate about causes.

1948: The Dixiecrats
In 1948 a spin-off of the Democrats were created: the southern ('Dixie') Democrats--hence: Dixiecrat. They were pointedly segregationist and wanted to maintain the Jim Crow laws, etc. Basically? Pretty racist. They lasted one election and then (a) a bunch of them apparently went back to being Democrats and (b) they disappeared into the annals of history.

What does this, a failed segregationist party 20 years before Nixon's strategy, have to do with anything? Well, it certainly has one point to make: in the war between the North and the South, one of those sides was pro-slavery and the other one wasn't. If back in 1948 there was enough residual racism to launch a (even if failed) party-spin-off, maybe it didn't all evaporate. In 1948 (and, thereafter with the exception of Strom Thurman who shifted back to mainstream parties but landed in the Republican camp) they remained Democrats.

1968: George Wallace
In 1968 avowed segregationist George Wallace made a 3rd party run for the White House. He had attempted to stop school integration previously and had stated that Kennedy wanted to surrender his state to Martin Luther King (and his group of communists too!).

Did he get crushed? No. He won five southern states--although--thankfully--that was as close as he ever got.
Way To Go Deep South
Where does this leave us?

Evidence And Causes
Here is what I take from the above reading: Sean Trende may well be right--it wasn't necessarily the Southern Strategy that drove this change--it was a shift that was already in the works. That's plausible--but from when?

Where Hayward wants to look at the Congressional stats around the 1965 Civil Rights Act, I want to look at two other events.

The 1948 Democratic National Convention
Let's start with the 1948 Democratic National Convention when Harry Truman (he integrated the military) was nominated, a call for civil rights was made (his election resulted in the creation of the President's Committee on Civil Rights). Thirty-five delegates from Southern States walked out, leaving the floor. This was one of the trigger events for creating the Dixiecrats--but I think it may have been positive action on the part of Democrats rather than negative action on the part of Republicans that tipped the scales.

I believe that something like Truman's nomination may have sent an unambiguous signal to southern segregationists that they were not welcome in the Democrat's party.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act
If segregationist (racists) were feeling unloved by Democrats and unsupported in 3rd Party attempts in 1948, they weren't quite ready to give up on an avowed southern separationalist party in 1964. But if they thought they might (as their representatives had earlier) find a home in the Democratic coalition they were probably very disappointed. Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson got the Voting Rights Act passed, which outlawed any kind of literacy test for voting and other such limitations. While it passed Congress with reasonably bipartisan support, today the GOP struggles with it:
It's particularly heavy baggage for Republicans. While Democrats and civil rights groups stand largely united behind the broadest interpretations of the Voting Rights Act, for Republicans it's a trickier matter. On one hand, they are eager to reach out to minority voters. ... On the other hand, the party's Tea Party wing is likely to revolt if the Republican House they elected tries to re-establish what many see as a federal overreach. 
The modern day interpretations and issues aside, if we look at the timing alone on Trende's graph we can see the Republicans picking up a large share of the southern vote around the time that the Democrats moved strongly in favor of Civil Rights.

The Theory
I do not think that the theory that racial demographics boil down to good PR on the side of the Democrats and bad PR on the side of Republicans passes the sniff test. Here is what I stipulate may have happened given the arguments reviewed here:
  1. The GOP has a sterling history on early civil rights--including ending slavery.
  2. Despite the Civil War (the, erm, 'War of Northern Aggression' to some people in the south), segregationist sentiment did not and has not (see the video below) ceased to exist. 
  3. Starting sometime around the mid to late 1940's Democratic policy began driving people with those views out of the party. They had no good home and, for 20 years experimented with unsuccessful third-party runs. As noted, although these positions were not national winners, they did drive significant voting behavior. Perhaps enough to deliver a block of key southern states?
  4. I think it is a reasonable postulation that Nixon, running partially on a States Rights platform, signaled to southern white segregationists that they could find a home in the Republican party. I'm not sure it happened this way--but to judge from several prominent Republican voices, a lot of people (and not just Democrats and the New York Times) think it did. In this case the Southern Strategy would be capitalizing on a trend rather than creating it.
If That's True, Can The Republicans Reverse Course?
In one sense, of course they can--but in another? No, they can't--not now. The reason why is this:

The video, which I have discussed before, is a guy defending slavery while attending the CPAC speech on how Republicans can defend the charge of racism. He doesn't get shouted down. He doesn't get thrown out. People might be quietly horrified--but no one, including the black speaker, goes ballistic.

Until something can be done about this dynamic, it's hard to see any way to reverse the perception that Republicans are okay with Racism--because, at least at the influential CPAC--they kinda were.

* I was told on Facebook the last one (Where Have All The (White) Voters Gone) was raaaacist.


  1. You omitted the 1964 election, in which Barry Goldwater became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win multiple Southern states. The main reason he achieved this feat is because he voted against the Civil Rights Act, offering segregationists a clear alternative to LBJ.

    Of course his stated motives were libertarian and not racist, and he later admitted he was wrong. However, from 1964 onward, the GOP would offer a safe home to characters like Kevin Phillips and Lee Atwater.

    PS It was the 1968 election that featured Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace.

    1. Thanks for the edit--fixed. I actually had something on AuH20 but the piece was already TL;DR enough. There are very clear quotes where Nixon comes out in favor of Civil Rights: the dog-whistle argument isn't iron-clad in the sense that it's hard to verify ("If I use this language even if I'm very clear in other respects that I'm against group-X, Group-X will come to me.")

      The crux of my proposition, as you note, rests less on proving the "how" of the strategy and more around the "what?" Segregationists looking for a home had to go somewhere ... given the 3rd party failures, where does one postulate they went? (I know you're not disagreeing--I'm just restating).

      Thanks for the feedback.