The politics of the Southern United States generally refers to the political landscape of the Southeastern/South Central United States. Due to the region's unique cultural and historical heritage, including slavery, the South has been involved in many political issues. Some of these issues include States' rights, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement and social conservatism. From the 1870s to the 1960s, the region was referred to as the Solid South, due to their consistent support for Democrats in all elective offices. As a result, its Congressmen gained seniority across many terms, thus enabling them to control many Congressional committees. In presidential politics, the South began to move away from national Democratic loyalties with the Dixiecrat movement of 1948 and the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign of 1964. Among white Southerners, Democratic loyalties first fell away at the presidential level, followed much later at the state and local levels.[1]

Southern states

The Southern United States as defined by the United States Census Bureau.[2] The "South" and its regions are defined in various ways, however.

According to the United States Census Bureau the following states are considered part of the "South."

Other definitions vary. For example, Missouri is often considered a border state, although many Missourians claim that Missouri is in the South.[3]

Post-Civil War

At the end of the Civil War, much of the conquered Confederacy lay in ruins. The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 and 1868 placed most of the Confederate states under military rule, requiring Union Army governors to approve appointed officials and candidates for election. They enfranchised African American citizens and required voters to recite an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, effectively discouraging still-rebellious individuals from voting and led to Republican control of many state governments.[4] This was interpreted as anarchy and upheaval by many residents.[5] However, Democrats had regained power in most Southern states by the late 1870s. Later, this period came to be referred to as Redemption. From 1890–1908 states of the former Confederacy passed statutes and amendments to their state constitutions that effectively disenfranchised most African Americans and tens of thousands of poor whites. They did this through devices such as poll taxes and literacy tests.[6]

In the 1890s the South split bitterly, with poor cotton farmers moving to the Populist movement. In coalition with the remaining Republicans, the Populists briefly controlled Alabama and North Carolina. The local elites, townspeople, and landowners fought back, regaining control of the Democratic party by 1898.

20th century

During the 20th century, civil rights became a central issue. Before 1964 African American citizens in the South were treated as second class citizens with minimal political rights.

1948: Dixiecrat revolt

Many Southern Democrats rejected the 1948 Democratic political platform over President Harry's Truman's civil rights platform.[7] They met at Birmingham, Alabama, and formed a political party named the "States' Rights" Democratic Party, more commonly known as the "Dixiecrats." Its main goal was to continue the policy of racial segregation in the South and the Jim Crow laws that sustained it. South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond, who had led the walkout, became the party's presidential nominee. Mississippi Governor Fielding L. Wright received the vice-presidential nomination. Thurmond had a moderate position in South Carolina politics, but with his allegiance with the Dixiecrats, he became the symbol of die-hard segregation.[8] The Dixiecrats had no chance of winning the election since they failed to qualify for the ballots of enough states. Their strategy was to win enough Southern states to deny Truman an electoral college victory and force the election into the House of Representatives, where they could then extract concessions from either Truman or his opponent Thomas Dewey on racial issues in exchange for their support. Even if Dewey won the election outright, the Dixiecrats hoped that their defection would show that the Democratic Party needed Southern support to win national elections, and that this fact would weaken the Civil Rights Movement among Northern and Western Democrats. However, the Dixiecrats were weakened when most Southern Democratic leaders (such as Governor Herman Talmadge of Georgia and "Boss" E. H. Crump of Tennessee) refused to support the party.[9] In the November election, Thurmond carried the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina.[10] Outside of these five states, however, it was only listed as a third-party ticket. Thurmond received well over a million popular votes and 39 electoral votes.[10]

Civil Rights Movement

Between 1955 and 1968, a movement towards desegregation began to take place in the American South. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were highly influential in carrying out a strategy of non-violent protests and demonstrations. African American churches were prominent in organizing their congregations for leadership and protest. Protesters rallied against racial laws, at events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Selma to Montgomery marches, the Birmingham campaign, the Greensboro sit-in of 1960 and the March on Washington in 1963.[11]

Legal changes came in the mid-1960s when President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress. It ended legal segregation. He also pushed through the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which set strict rules for protecting the right of African Americans to vote. This law has since been used to protect equal rights for women as well as all minorities.[12]

The South becomes Republican

For nearly a century after Reconstruction, the white South identified with the Democratic Party. Republicans controlled parts of the mountains districts and they competed for statewide office in the border states. Before 1948, southern Democrats believed that their party, with its respect for states' rights and appreciation of traditional southern values, was the defender of the southern way of life. Southern Democrats warned against designs on the part of northern liberals and Republicans and civil rights activists whom they denounced as "outside agitators".[citation needed]

The adoption of the first civil rights plank by the 1948 convention and President Truman's Executive Order 9981, which provided for equal treatment and opportunity for African-American military service members, divided the party's northern and southern wings.[13] In1952, the Democratic Party named John Sparkman, a moderate Senator from Alabama, as their vice presidential candidate with the hope of building party loyalty in the South.[14][15] By the late 1950s, the national Democratic Party again began to embrace the Civil Rights Movement, and the old argument that Southern whites had to vote for Democrats to protect segregation grew weaker. Modernization had brought factories, national businesses and a more diverse culture to cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte and Houston. This attracted millions of northern migrants, including many African Americans. They gave priority to modernization and economic growth over preservation of the old ways.[16]

The Civil Rights act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed by bipartisan majorities of northern congressmen. Only a small element resisted, led by Democratic governors Lester Maddox of Georgia, and especially George Wallace of Alabama. These populist governors appealed to a less-educated, blue-collar electorate that favored the Democratic Party, but supported segregation.[17] After the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation in schools in 1954, integration caused enormous controversy in the white South. For this reason, compliance was very slow and was the subject of violent resistance in some areas.[18]

The Democratic Party no longer acted as the champion of segregation. Newly-enfranchised African American voters began supporting Democratic candidates at the 80-90-percent levels, producing Democratic leaders such as Julian Bond and John Lewis of Georgia, and Barbara Jordan of Texas.[19]

Many white southerners switched to the Republican Party, some for reasons unrelated to race. The majority of white southerners shared conservative positions on taxes, moral values and national security. The Democratic Party had increasingly liberal positions rejected by these voters.[20] In addition, the younger generations, who were politically conservative but wealthier and less attached to the Democratic Party, replaced the older generations who remained loyal to the party.[20] The shift to the Republican Party took place slowly and gradually over almost a century.[20]

By the 1990s Republicans were starting to win elections at the statewide and local level throughout the South, even though Democrats retained majorities in several state legislatures through the 2000s and 2010s.[20][21] By 2014, the region was heavily Republican at the local, state and national level.[21][22] A key element in the change was the transformation of evangelical white Protestants in the south from largely nonpolitical to heavily Republican. Pew pollsters reported, "In the late 1980s, white evangelicals in the South were still mostly wedded to the Democratic Party while evangelicals outside the South were more aligned with the GOP. But over the course of the next decade or so, the GOP made gains among white Southerners generally and evangelicals in particular, virtually eliminating this regional disparity."[23] Exit polls in the 2004 presidential election showed that Republican George W. Bush led Democrat John Kerry by 70–30% among Southern whites, who comprised 71% of the voters there. By contrast, Kerry had a 90–9 lead among the 18% of African American Southern voters. One-third of the Southern voters said they were white evangelicals; they voted for Bush by 80–20.[24]

After the 2016 election, every state legislature in the South was GOP-controlled.[25] With the historic flip of Elliott County, Kentucky from Democrat to Republican in 2016, every rural, white-majority county in the Southern United States voted for the Republican nominee.[26]

Recent trends

LGBT rights

In September 2004, Louisiana became the first state adopt a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in the South. This was followed by Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Oklahoma in November 2004, Texas in 2005, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia in 2006, Florida in 2008, and finally North Carolina in 2012. North Carolina became the 30th state to adopt a state constitutional ban of same-sex marriage.[27] This ended with Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case. Decided on June 26, 2015.[28]


A map of the Southern United States (2015), showing which party controls each Governorship and US state legislatures
  States with Republican supermajorities in both state chambers and a Republican Governor
  States with Republican supermajorities in one chamber, one state chamber controlled by Republicans, and a Republican Governor
  States with Republicans controlling both state chambers and a Republican Governor
  States with Republicans controlling both state chambers and a Democratic Governor
  States with Republicans controlling one state chambers, one state chamber controlled by Democrats, and a Democratic Governor
  States with Republican supermajorities in one state chamber, one state chamber controlled by Democrats, and a Democratic Governor
  States with Democratic controlling both state chambers and a Republican Governor
  States with Democratic supermajorities in both state chambers and a Democratic Governor
  States with Democratic supermajorities in one state chamber, one state chamber controlled by Democrats, and a Democratic Governor
  States with Democratic controlling both state chambers and a Democratic Governor
A map of the Southern United States, showing voter demographics
  40-49% Republican
  30-39% Republican
  40-49% Democratic
  50-59% Democratic

While the general trend in the South has shown an increasing dominance of the Republican party, politics in the 21st century are just as contentious and competitive as any time in the region's history. States such as Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina have become swing states; all three of which voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 United States Presidential Election. Florida and Virginia voted again for Obama in 2012. Almost all southern states supported Donald Trump in 2016 Republican Primary (except Texas which was won by native son Ted Cruz) and the Presidential Election (except Virginia, which was won by Hillary Clinton).[29]

Political views and affiliations in the South
Political views and affiliations % living in the South
Hard-Pressed Democrats[30] 48 48
Disaffected[30] 41 41
Bystander[30] 40 40
Main Street Republicans[30] 40 40
New Coalition Democrats[30] 40 40
Staunch Conservative[30] 38 38
Post-Modern[30] 31 31
Libertarian[30] 28 28
Solid Liberal[30] 26 26

See also


  1. ^ Amanda Cox (2012-10-15). "Over the Decades, How States Have Shifted". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  2. ^ Regions and Divisions—2007 Economic Census". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  3. ^ "Which States Are in the South?". FiveThirtyEight. 2014-04-30. Retrieved 2017-11-04. 
  4. ^ "History Engine: The Second Reconstruction Act is passed". University of Virginia. 
  5. ^ "Reconstruction vs. Redemption". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  6. ^ Michael Perman, Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South (2009)
  7. ^ Harvard Sitkoff (November 1971). "Harry Truman and the Election of 1948: The Coming of Age of Civil Rights in American Politics". Journal of Southern History. 37: 597–616. JSTOR 2206548. 
  8. ^ Jack Bass, and Marilyn W. Thompson, Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond (2005).
  9. ^ Kari Frederickson, The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932–1968 (2001)
  10. ^ a b "Dixiecrats". Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  11. ^ "The Emergence of the Civil Rights Movement Boundless US History". courses.lumenlearning.com. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  12. ^ "Johnson signs Civil Rights Act - Jul 02, 1964 - HISTORY.com". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  13. ^ Littlejohn, Jeffrey L., and Charles H. Ford. "Truman and Civil Rights." in Daniel S. Margolies, ed. A Companion to Harry S. Truman (2012) p 287.
  14. ^ "Sparkman Chosen by Democrats as Running Mate for Stevenson; Senator Hails Party Solidarity". partners.nytimes.com. Retrieved 28 August 2017. 
  15. ^ "John J. Sparkman - Encyclopedia of Alabama". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 28 August 2017. 
  16. ^ Byron E. Shafer, The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South (2006) ch 6
  17. ^ "Lester Maddox (1915-2003)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  18. ^ "School Segregation and Integration - Civil Rights History Project". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  19. ^ Lawson, Steven F. (1991). "Freedom then, freedom now: The historiography of the civil rights movement". American Historical Review. 96: 456–471. JSTOR 2163219. 
  20. ^ a b c d Trende, Sean (September 9, 2010). "Misunderstanding the Southern Realignment". RealClearPolitics. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  21. ^ a b Hamby, Peter (December 9, 2014). "The plight of the Southern Democrat". CNN. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  22. ^ Cohn, Nate (December 4, 2014). "Demise of the Southern Democrat Is Now Nearly Complete". The New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  23. ^ "Religion and the Presidential Vote Pew Research Center". People-press.org. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  24. ^ "Exit Polls". CNN. 2004-11-02. Retrieved 2006-11-18. 
  25. ^ Loftus, Tom (November 9, 2016). "GOP takes Ky House in historic shift". courier-journal.com. Retrieved November 9, 2016. 
  26. ^ Simon, Jeff (December 9, 2016). "How Trump Ended Democrats' 144-Year Winning Streak in One County". CNN. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  27. ^ "Progression of same-sex Marriage in the United States and Worldwide". 2014-11-25. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  28. ^ "Timeline: Same-sex marriage through the years". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  29. ^ "Why the South likes Donald Trump". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Beyond Red vs. Blue : Political Typology" (PDF). People-press.org. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 


  • Bartley, Numan V. The New South, 1945-1980 (1995), broad survey
  • Billington, Monroe Lee. The Political South in the 20th Century (Scribner, 1975). ISBN 0-684-13983-9.
  • Black, Earl, and Merle Black. Politics and Society in the South (1989) excerpt and text search
  • Bullock III, Charles S. and Mark J. Rozell, eds. The New Politics of the Old South: An Introduction to Southern Politics (2007) state-by-state coverage excerpt and text search
  • Cunningham, Sean P. Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right. (2010).
  • Grantham. Dewey. The Democratic South (1965)
  • Guillory, Ferrel, "The South in Red and Purple: Southernized Republicans, Diverse Democrats," Southern Cultures, 18 (Fall 2012), 6–24.
  • Key, V. O. and Alexander Heard. Southern Politics in State and Nation (1949), a famous classic
  • Perman, Michael. Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South (2009)
  • Shafer, Byron E., and Richard Johnston. The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Steed, Robert P. and Laurence W. Moreland, eds. Writing Southern Politics: Contemporary Interpretations and Future Directions (2006); historiography & scholarly essays excerpts & text search
  • Tindall, George Brown. The Emergence of the New South, 1913-1945 (1967), influential survey
  • Twyman, Robert W. and David C. Roller, ed. Encyclopedia of Southern History (LSU Press, 1979) ISBN 0-8071-0575-9.
  • Woodard, J. David. The New Southern Politics (2006) 445pp
  • Woodward, C. Vann. The Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (1951), a famous classic