Traditionally, the South was predominantly Democratic. However, a strategy implemented by Republican candidates like Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater led to a shift that transformed the region into a Republican stronghold. Three main factors played significant roles in that shift, including the “Southern Strategy,” economic growth of the Sun Belt region, and a racial appeal to conservative whites. The Democratic South had existed since the 19th century, and issues of race and civil rights played a key role in transforming the region into a Republican stronghold.
The “Southern Strategy” refers to a scheme used by Republicans to recruit Democratic white southerners in a bid to enlarge its influence in the region. The plan was spearheaded by George Wallace and George W. Bush, who appealed to the racial grievances of the white Southerners with regard to political and social conservatism. Wallace promoted resentment, segregation, and racism and has been widely described as the pioneer of the politics of rage (Crespino). His contribution to the rise of the Republican South was ironic because he spent his entire political career as a Democrat. Bush was part of a population and capital migration wave to the South by white professionals from the North and other regions. The region had become appealing to professionals primarily because of a boom in economic growth (Maxwell and Shields 76). For instance, the Sun Belt was growing enormously from the development of military bases during the Cold War, the relocation of industries to the southern states, and numerous technological innovations such as air conditioning (Crespino). This led to the creation of a suburban middle class that embraced the philosophies of mainstream social and fiscal conservatism of the Republican Party.
The Democratic Party supported the Civil rights movement, thus opening an avalanche of migrations of white southerners to the Republican Party. However, it was difficult for its members to win during elections because the party was viewed as elite and, therefore, disconnected from the interests of the white workers in the region (Crespino). The majority of the white southerners had changed their affiliation and embraced the ideologies of the Republican Party. However, they found it difficult to vote for party candidates because of the class gap that existed. The appeal to white voters was based on polarizing issues that included culture, religion, and race (Crespino). Conservatives sought to retain the status quo by opposing the implementation of various laws, such as the Civil Rights Act. The party executed the ideologies of both Wallace and Bush that were centered on racial objections and economic development, respectively. The intersection of racial and class animus helped the Republican Party grow its stronghold in the South by appealing majorly to the interests of “George Wallace inclined voters” who were opposed to the ideologies of the civil rights movement.
The racial tensions in the South led to the political realignment of the region with shifts from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. The social and political conservatism of Republicans appealed to the white southerners who were traditionally Democrats. The GOP used the “Southern Strategy” to change the allegiance of white voters by appealing to their racial fears. Issues ranging from culture and race to religion were used to bring the shift, leading to the adoption of politics of rage. George Wallace and George Bush played different roles, even though the shift is ascribed to their various contributions.
Crespino, Joseph. “Lectures in History: Political Rights since the 1960s.” C-SPAN, Web.
Maxwell, Angie, and Todd Shields. The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics. Oxford University Press, 2019.