The 1988 Presidential Election in the South: Continuity Amidst Change in Southern Party Politics

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

6
Mississippi: Electoral Conflict in a Nationalized State

STEPHEN D. SHAFFER

The 1988 elections in Mississippi promised to be a fascinating contest between a traditionally dominant Democratic party and an increasingly powerful Republican party. Enormous changes had swept across the state in recent decades, as the Democratic party was transformed from the party of white supremacy to an accommodating coalition including blacks as well as disadvantaged whites. The Republican label was no longer a curse word, as many moderate and conservative whites supported attractive federal candidates offered by that party. In effect, Mississippi voters were undergoing the twin processes of dealignment and realignment, as the numbers of Independents and Republicans had risen at the expense of Democrats, who nevertheless continued to comprise a plurality of the electorate. However, factions threatened the unity of both parties, as Democratic candidates were occasionally defeated by racial splits within their party when normally Democratic voters refused to support candidates not sharing their race, and the Republican party was sometimes split into moderate and conservative wings. 1

Republican party gains in Mississippi were especially evident in federal elections in the 1970s and 1980s. As occurred in most areas of the country, the state generally voted Republican for President, supporting Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 with landslide margins, and narrowly supporting Reagan in 1980 (though narrowly supporting Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976). In 1978

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