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Variable 666

- June 24, 2008

“Eric Rauchway”:http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2008/06/17/variable-666/ has an interesting post on the reasons why the Democrats lost the South.

bq. ever since Nixon’s “southern strategy”—it’s been commonplace to assume that the Republicans picked up where the Democrats left off in courting bigoted whites, in the South and elsewhere. … Along come some political scientists to tell us this Republican racism is a bit of a side show, that the real story of the GOP’s new southern eminence has to do with the emergence, at long last, of a New South, ushered (ironically) into being by Democratic programs of New Deal and wartime mobilization. … One of the best-known works in this line was co-written by a friend and former colleague of mine, Byron E. Shafer, together with Richard Johnston, titled The End of Southern Exceptionalism. They argue that more, richer white southerners means more Republican white southerners.

bq. Shafer and Johnston sometimes contribute to this confusion themselves, nowhere more than in the short section they devote to the influence of George Wallace on southern politics. Now, we think we know this story, too: Wallace helped loosen the loyalty of southern whites to the Democratic Party in 1964 and in 1968; the sort of person who voted for Wallace in 1968 was the sort of person who’d voted for Goldwater in 1964 and if he couldn’t have Wallace in 1968, he’d rather have had Nixon than Humphrey … But—say Shafer and Johnston—not so fast. … in the South the Democrats ultimately kept the Wallace voters, while the Republicans picked up the Johnson voters. It’s provocative, all right. Is it true?

Eric argues (using graphs of county level data and the aptly named ICPSR variable #666, George Wallace’s share of the presidential vote in 1968), that Shafer and Johnson may be missing part of the picture.

bq. I don’t see what Shafer and Johnston see—I’d bet from looking at this that Nixon got the Wallace vote in ’72, when probably not so much had changed demographically since ’68. But in later elections, people have moved around a lot and just looking at race and income, the constituencies for the same counties look pretty different. Which isn’t to say Shafer and Johnston are wrong, per se—(1) I’m looking at counties, not districts; (2) I spent all of a couple of afternoons on this; (3) I may well be missing something incredibly obvious, such that it’s better to look at districts than counties, or something. Political scientists in the readership who want to look at this and tell me how I got it all wrong are welcome. It’s just to say, I don’t see what Shafer and Johnston see.

Any political scientists out there who’d like to comment?