Southern Parties and Elections: Studies in Regional Political Change

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

7
Dixie Versus the Nonsouthern Megastates in American Presidential Politics

Thomas F. Eamon

Following the 1992 election the American South found itself in a position that it had occupied all too often in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. The former Confederate states were on the losing side in a presidential race and that in an election where the victors had won an electoral college landslide. However, in 1992 most southern states had voted for the Republican candidate in an election won by the Democrats. There was further irony. For the first time since the Civil War, both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates of a major political party--in this case the Democrats--were from the South. In contrast the Democratic ticket amassed its greatest pluralities in the big electoral vote states outside the South, all of which were Republican leaning before 1932 and major two- party battlegrounds afterward. As in earlier days, these larger states--especially Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio--were the most heavily courted by both the Democrat and Republican tickets.

This most recent of elections was a driving force behind our investigation of modern presidential politics. So too was the stimulating and provocative book The Vital South ( 1992), in which Earl and Merle Black argued that the South had emerged as a crucial region in American politics.1 At least on first glance the 1992 election appeared to raise serious questions about the validity of their central thesis.2

We thought also about a winter 1989 article in Polity that was in partial conflict with the Blacks' position. In "Go West, Young Democrat," C. B. Holman asserted that "the time has come for national Democrats to look away from Dixieland and toward the Golden West."3 On the basis of long- term electoral trends and public opinion surveys, Holman concluded, "There is closer harmony between eastern and western Democrats on a variety of issues and . . . the Democrats should reconstruct their party coalition along these geographic lines."4

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