New South, Old Suburbs

Article excerpt

To some, Atlanta is the symbol of the New South, although others still whistle Dixie.

The "New South" has been heralded several times since a newspaper editor coined the phrase in the 1880s. But its latest incarnation, begun in the 1970s and marked by economic growth and the withering of racial segregation, may have jumped the boundaries of the 11 Confederate states to influence the rest of the country.

"Historically, the South had been very separate and distinct, but a lot of that has been overcome in the past 30 years' " says Charles Reagan Wilson of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. "The fact is that the rest of the nation is beginning to listen to the South, which has not been true of the past."

Today, the 11 states have a population of more than 70 million people, more than one-quarter of the U.S. population. Those states provide 147 Electoral College votes, more than half of what it takes to win the presidency But while the last three Democratic presidents have been Baptists reared in the South - Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton - its states increasingly have swung Republican. In 1992, President Bush won seven of the 11 states in his failed bid for reelection. In 1996, pollsters predict an even larger GOP share.

While there's no proof that the South spawned the current national interest in small government and moral conformity, says Del Ali, vice president of the Mason Dixon Poll, the region certainly has been ahead of the curve. As a consequence, the South's politicians have become more difficult to pick out of the national crowd. No longer the colorful agrarian and race-conscious characters of the past, they now are suburban economic boosters.

"The same issues of importance - pocketbook issues - show up in the South as in the North," says Ali. "But the South's solutions are different. They want less government and less regulation in economic affairs but some government role in cultural and moral issues. …