South Wind, Warning:
The Election of 1976
When you see the south wind blowing, you say, "There will be scorching heat,"and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
-- Luke 12:55-56
For almost a hundred years," V.O. Key wrote in 1952, "catastrophe has fixed the grand outlines of the partisan division among American voters."1 Key had two disasters in mind: the Civil War, which created a solidly Democratic South; and the Great Depression, which established the Democrats as the party of working-class and low-income voters. After all the turbulence of the first quarter century, it seemed to be that traditional coalition that elected Jimmy Carter in 1976.
On closer analysis, however, the election of 1976 shows that the old battle lines, though still very persistent, are changing and yielding to more contemporary divisions. This, I argue, is especially evident in (1) the role of the South in the 1976 election, (2) Carter's relative weakness in northern industrial states, and (3) the increased salience of the "social issue" in electoral politics.