Southern Parties and Elections: Studies in Regional Political Change

By Robert P. Steed; Laurence W. Moreland et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction
Changing Electoral and Party Politics in the South

Robert P. Steed

For approximately half a century, southern politics has been in the process of a remarkable transformation. The region emerged from World War II as solidly one-party Democratic, still devoted to racial segregation, and still largely dominated by small-town and rural areas operating through the mechanisms of malapportioned state legislatures.1 In the intervening decades the Republican Party has become increasingly competitive, the Civil Rights movement and its legal and social successes have ended segregation and brought African-Americans into the social, economic, and political systems, and dramatic changes in constitutional law and in the region's population have diminished the power of the rural areas significantly.2

Within this broad framework of change, particular interest has developed regarding the changes in party and electoral patterns. For one thing, party realignments are such rare occurrences in American politics, even at the regional level, that when they do take place they generate great interest. Whether party change in the South constitutes a classic realignment is still being debated,3 but there is little argument over whether significant party change has occurred and whether it is worthy of investigation.4 Beyond this somewhat academic interest in realignment, there is the more immediate interest in the relationship between party change and southern electoral behavior, on the one hand, and larger patterns of national party and electoral politics, on the other. There is, for example, a strong case for the proposition that Republican successes in presidential elections since the 1960s have been greaty aided by the high levels of support rendered Republican candidates in the South.5 Similarly, Republican gains in Congress, culminating in 1994 in control of both chambers for the first time in forty years, have been significantly bolstered by increased southern Republican support over recent decades.

The development of party competition in the South has been as slow as

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