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

14
The 1988 Presidential Election and the Future of Southern Politics

EARL BLACK AND MERLE BLACK

In the 1988 presidential election the Republican party once again convincingly swept the South. George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis by a ratio of almost three to two, a margin of victory unapproached in any other region of the nation. In most southern states, the campaign was essentially over by the second presidential debate. The Democratic party, having nominated a candidate who could be lambasted regionally as the most preposterous and parochial sort of northeastern liberal, lacked both a convincing message and a credible messenger. Vice President Bush, whose image metamorphosed during the campaign from Ronald Reagan's trusty, self-effacing, Yale-educated butler to a "kinder, gentler" George the Ripper, easily attracted the overwhelming white majorities that continue to be the hallmark of Republican victories in the South.

There was more to the election, of course, than the candidates' contrasting images. Bush benefited enormously from the resurgence of President Ronald Reagan's popularity after he signed an arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union in the summer of 1988. Bush's background in foreign affairs became a significant asset in comparison with Dukakis's inexperience in this vital dimension of presidential responsibility. Moreover, the election took place in a relatively favorable economic climate for many southerners. A majority of the region's adults believed that their personal economic situation was better in 1988 than it had been in 1980, when a Democrat had been president. 1

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