Thursday, February 27, 2014

Without the Solid South

I’m a Southerner, so I know my region is a little, um … er … “different.”  Now, that extends to lots of different things, but I want to focus on here is politics.  In particular, I’d like to concentrate on how the South has long been a one-party state.

Now, what’s particularly interesting about that history is how the South switched from being a one-party Democratic state to being a one-party Republican state.  Yes, the parties have changed over the years, but that movement is kind of like switching from being a Red Sox fan to being a Yankees fan, from loving Coke to loving Pepsi, from being a dog person to being a cat person ...  

That switch started roughly with the 1948 election and was pretty well finished in 1972.  In the early years of that period, Southerners often voted for third parties – Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd, George Wallace.  After Nixon’s landslide over McGovern in ’72, the South neglected to go all red only on rare occasions – typically, for native sons like Carter and Clinton.

Better Off Without ‘Em

I just finished an excellent book, Better Off Without ‘Em, by Chuck Thompson.  The sub-title is “A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession,” and Thompson does a wonderful job skewering my region and also bemoaning the outsized effect it’s had on the rest of the USA.

That book got me thinking about what presidential elections might have looked like without the solid South.  More recently, it made me wonder if the country would have elected right wingers like Reagan and Bush II.  More historically (say, between the Civil War and JFK), I wondered if the country could have elected any Democrats at all.

Before the Big Switch

Historically, the South was solidly Democratic.  From 1880 through 1916, the region never once voted for a Republican in a presidential election (and only one state defected in both 1920 and 1924).  There were some major defections in 1928 (the Democratic candidate was Catholic – gasp!), but the South went super solid again for all of FDR’s four elections.  

Except for FDR, Democratic presidents were pretty rare birds during this period – basically, just Cleveland and Wilson.  I was wondering, though, if even they could have made it without the solid South.  Looking at the data (basically, subtracting the former Confederacy from the Electoral College), here’s what I got:

Year Dem. Pres. Elected Electoral Votes Electoral Votes w/out South Rep. Electoral Votes Winner
1884 Cleveland 219 120 182 James G. Blaine!!!
1892 Cleveland 277 145 156 Benjamin Harrison!!!
1912 Wilson 435 296 80 Wilson
1916 Wilson 277 138 254 Charles Evans Hughes!!!

So, there would have been only four years of Democratic administrations between the Civil War and FDR, instead of the existing eight.  And school kids would have to memorize two additional presidents, Blaine and Hughes.

Pres. Blaine  

Pres. Hughes

After the Big Switch

Richard Nixon was the first Republican candidate to really go trolling for Southern votes.  It was called the “Southern strategy,” and it was largely the idea of Kevin Phillips.  (I’m not including Barry Goldwater’s version of the same strategy, as Goldwater was very much a fringe candidate back in 1964).

After that, Republicans pretty much dominated the South to the present day, with exceptions for native sons Carter and Clinton in 1976, 1992, and 1996.   Once again, though, I’m wondering how successful they would have been without the (now Republican) solid South.  Let’s take a look.

Year Rep. Pres. Elected Electoral Votes Elec. Votes w/out South Dem. Electoral Votes Winner
1980 Reagan 489 363 49 Reagan
1984 Reagan 525 364 13 Reagan
1988 Bush I 426 271 105 Bush I
2000 Bush II 271 103 261 Gore!!!
2004 Bush II 286 113 251 Kerry!!!

So, once again, eight additional years for the out party (this time, the Democrats), as well as two brand new presidents (though Gore would probably simply have repeated, if he had originally been elected in 2000).

Pres. Gore
Pres. Kerry

No South, No Southern Candidates

Up until, oh maybe JFK, Southerners were not well represented on national presidential ballots.  I guess the Democrats just figured they didn’t even have to bother.  The old saying was that Southerners would vote for a “yellow dog” (i.e., a real mongrel) before they would vote for a Republican.  In the same vein, Republicans must have known nominating a Southerner wouldn’t have made any differences whatsoever.

The only exception for Democrats was John Nance Gardner, a Texan, and FDR’s VP in 1932 and 1936 (FDR would actually dump him in 1940).  There wouldn’t be another Southerner until Alban Barkley, a Kentuckian, was Truman’s VP in 1948.  

(I really don’t count Woodrow Wilson as a Southerner.  Yes, he was born and grew up down here – and was a terrible racist – but he headed up North for college, and never looked back.)

It was only after Nixon that Southerners started playing a major role on each party’s tickets,  Actually, they rather started to dominate things – Carter, Bentsen, Clinton, Gore, Bush I, Bush II.  

So, if we were to eliminate the South from the electoral college, I guess we’d have to eliminate any Southern candidates as well.  And here’s what that might mean:

Year Party Position Actual Candidate Likely Non-Southern Candidate
1932 Democrat VP Garner Al Smith
1936 Democrat VP Garner Al Smith
1948 Democrat VP Barkley William O. Douglas (Supreme Court Justice)
1960 Democrat VP LBJ Stuart Symington (MO Senator)
1964 Democrat Pres. LBJ Symington
1976 Democrat Pres. Carter Mo Udall (AZ Congressman)
1980 Democrat Pres. Carter Udall
1980 Republican VP Bush I John Anderson (IL Congressman)
1984 Republican VP Bush I Anderson
1988 Republican Pres. Bush I Anderson
1988 Democrat VP Lloyd Bentsen Dick Gephardt (MO Congressman)
1992 Democrat Pres. Clinton Jerry Brown
1992 Democrat VP Gore Paul Tsongas
1996 Democrat Pres. Clinton Jerry Brown
1996 Democrat VP Gore Paul Tsongas
2000 Democrat Pres. Gore Bill Bradley
2000 Republican Pres. Bush II John McCain
2004 Republican Pres. Bush II John McCain
2004 Democrat VP John Edwards * Gephardt / Tom Vilsac

* Bradley / Lieberman may have simply repeated

So, who would it have been in 1992, Jerry Brown or John Anderson?   Would you have voted for Mo Udall in 1976 (heck, would you have voted for anyone who wasn’t associated in any way, shape, or form with Nixon)?  Who would it have been in 2000, McCain or former Knick Bill Bradley?  Oh, and does this mean Linda Ronstadt would have been the first lady?

Pres. Symington

Pres. Udall

Pres. Brown with
First Lady Linda Ronstadt