November 14, 2006

A Republican South or the consequence of seventy years of US social policy

Harold Ford conceding in the Tennessee Senatorial Race

Salon has recently run its eye over the midterm election results from the US and pointed to perhaps the most interesting feature of them- that the Democrats won their victories outside the South, furthermore that this is not true just of this election but that its been true of every Presidential election since 1992 that the Democrats have come within one state of taking victory before any Southern state needed counting. (There is he notes in some areas evidence of a second reconstruction of sorts- the victory by Jim Webb in Virginia relying upon the suburbs of Washington for example could be regarded as such an indication). Christopher Grant, Professor of Political Science at Mercer University, Macon, said to the New York Times that it was amazing that two Democrats were returned as Congressmen for Georgia at all.

Salon notes three reasons for this trend- firstly it notes that Southern votes trend not on the views of Southerners but on their race (a sign of this is that in the South there is a smaller gender gap between men (Republican) and women (Democrat) than in the rest of the US)- black southerners vote Democrat, white ones vote Republican in solid phalanxes, secondly Tom Schaller notes that unionisation never advanced far into the south as opposed to the north and west and thirdly he notes that the south is the most evangelised, most religious part of the United States and that its the most rural.

None of these conclusions should come as any surprise to him or to us. Ira Katznelson's recent study of the South and the way that its politics were deformed by the way the New Deal was applied there should indicate why what we see in Schaller's article is true. Unions stopped at the Mason Dixon line, because Southern Senators ammended New Deal and Fair Deal leglislation on unionisation to exclude Blacks from their purview. Rural jobs were kept isolated from national regulation and protected by the influence of the southerners in the senate. Blacks were stopped from acquiring homes and consequently addressing their material (often capital not wage) inequalities by the fact that they were excluded from the GI Bill. One of the authors of this blog has reviewed Katznelson's book elsewhere but the degree to which it explains the phenomenen that Salon wishes to investigate. The changes introduced by the New and Fair Deal left blacks uniquely disadvantaged especially though not exclusively in the south explains a lot. It also explains part of the reason why the electoral map now is the opposite of the one in 1906- the Republicans opposing the New and Fair Deal and the Great Society have become the natural allies of the Southern senators who opposed the application of the New Deal in their own states. What we see in this election therefore, is an instance in our own time which demonstrates the truth of the much longer perspective on US politics taken by Professor Katznelson.

Whether we shall see changes in this over the next century is a fascinating question- given the change that Latino immigration is bringing in- but the truth remains that the fortunes of the New Deal in Dixie still explain a large part of the geography of American politics in the age of Bush.


edmund said...

how does all this explain the voting patterns now in particular what do the racial politics of the 1930's and 40's have to do wit the Republicans vs the Demcorats now?

the naive might think they might have more to do with the politics of the 30's and 40's wherre southern congressman were consistanly more pro new deal/ liberal/ populist measures than northern ones

I'll post more soon but i thought I'd say this for now...

Gracchi said...

I think the point about unionisation and race being still a matter of class I think is what I was getting at but I may be wrong and defer to your expertise.