The history of any country consists of periods reflecting changes in the power structure and their impact on common people and the state’s strategy of development. The United States is among the largest countries with a two-party system, and the relationships between the two dominating movements, the Democrats and the Republicans, can be studied to better understand today’s situation. In the twentieth century, the Republicans managed to become the prevailing power in the South due to their electoral strategy that attracted the conservative white population.
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The Democratic Party of the United States is known as the key political power in the nineteenth-century American South. It was dominant in the Southern states for more than a hundred years, starting from the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, in the second half of the twentieth century, the party started losing its strong positions in the South. At the same time, the Republican Party managed to improve the movement’s social image and appeal to citizens’ major concerns.
In general, the gradual change of power structure in the South can be explained with reference to both internal changes in the Democratic Party and the effectiveness of the Republicans’ efforts made as a part of the so-called Southern strategy.
The Democrats’ monopoly in the South was heavily influenced by internal conflicts and the inability to reach consensus. For instance, after the implementation of racial desegregation policies in the 1940s, many Democrats were disappointed with Truman’s actions, which led to a political split and the creation of the segregationist Democratic parties (Kuziemko & Washington, 2018). However, the Republicans’ strategy was a more significant factor in the change of power.
The Southern strategy was the Republicans’ approach to campaigning that relied heavily on the problematization of race-based issues in the Southern states (Miller, 2015). Having implemented this strategy into practice, the Republicans derived benefits from white voters’ growing disagreement with the Democrats’ political actions and the situation with the protest movements organized by the African-American population (Miller, 2015).
The Republicans realized that running to extremes in their electoral rhetoric would cause further dissatisfaction, and this is why the strategy made use of some hidden appeals to racism. For instance, the reference to “states’ rights” in the Republican candidates’ speeches was understood by many people as a pro-racist message, showing that the Republican Party would not urge the South to protect black people’s civil rights (Miller, 2015, p. 80).
To some extent, such promises perfectly aligned with white voters’ willingness to maintain their supremacy but avoid being regarded as people openly supporting racial discrimination. The ability to play to the Democrats’ changing social image produced the first positive results in 1964 – despite his loss in the presidential election, the Republican candidate Goldwater managed to win in five states of the Deep South (Miller, 2015). Gradually, the support increased even more to make the South a Republican-dominated part of the country.
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The question of changes in social and political issues in the South also remains important when it comes to the prerequisites to the evolution of the power distribution. During the period of the Civil War and the post-war Reconstruction, the Democratic Party was widely supported by the white population in the South. In general, being positive towards moderate segregation, the Democrats wanted to strike the right balance between the economic benefits of inequality for the white population and former slaves’ formal freedom.
During and after the discussed period, white voters’ attention was attracted to such problems as the political power of the state governments, equal voting rights, and the unwillingness to accept social change (Miller, 2015). In the second half of the twentieth century, when the Democrats started losing their positions in the South, the key problems bothering the white population remained almost unchanged.
The growth of the Civil Rights Movement propelled the unending conflict between different parts of the country to the next level. Many years after the abolition of slavery in the South, the African-American population needed the next step on the path to social justice to the discontent of white people who supported more conservative views. Basically, the interests of people who supported Southern Democrats remained the same – they viewed the evolving African-American consciousness as a potential threat to their comfortable life. Therefore, there was continuity in the problems uniting people in the South behind the Democratic Party, but the latter gradually lost the opportunity to profit from it.
Since the 1960s, the so-called Solid South has been destabilized a few times. For instance, Richard Nixon’s adherence to the Southern strategy in 1972 significantly affected the unity of the Southern bloc and helped to turn many voters against the Democrats (Miller, 2015). After the South became Republican-dominated, some Democrats also managed to challenge those states’ political unity. Thus, in 1976, Jimmy Carter was supported by the majority of the Southern States at presidential elections (Miller, 2015). Another Democrat whose campaign caused a temporary destabilization was Bill Clinton – he won seven Southern States in 1992 and 1996 (Leuchtenburg, 2015).
To sum up, the drastic change in voters’ preferences in the American South is among the interesting topics in the history of the United States. This change became possible due to the Republicans’ effective strategic actions that helped them to gather people’s support by using the problem of race and appeals to states’ rights. Despite some candidates’ destabilizing influence, political unity is still a trend in the South.
Kuziemko, I., & Washington, E. (2018). Why did the democrats lose the South? Bringing new data to an old debate. American Economic Review, 108(10), 2830-2867.
Leuchtenburg, W. E. (2015). The American president: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Miller, E. H. (2015). Nut country: Right-wing Dallas and the birth of the Southern strategy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.