Electoral Sorting in the Old South

Guest Post by Mike Guidry-

The eleven states of the former Confederacy earned the moniker “the Solid South”, for their electoral unity in the post Civil War era. In the 17 presidential elections from 1880 to 1944, these states voted together for the Democratic candidate in all but two. The civil rights movement caused the coalition to fracture, and over the 6 elections from 1948 to 1968 these states voted for a mix of Democratic, Republican, and third party candidates. Unity returned in 1972 when the bloc voted for Richard Nixon’s reelection. Jimmy Carter won 10 of the 11 in 1976, and all but Georgia voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980. The bloc again voted together for Reagan in 1984 and Bush in 1988.

In 1988, the coalition was in a relatively tight pattern, from Louisiana (R+10) to South Carolina (R+24). Bill Clinton was able to split the group, taking 4 states in both of his wins, including winning Arkansas by 17 points and Louisiana by 12 points in 1996. The group reunited with George W. Bush in both of his victories.

Starting in 2008, an interesting split has taken place among these eleven states. The five South Atlantic states, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, have shown a more Democratic bias than the rest of the coalition. Meanwhile, the five Deep South states, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, have moved more firmly to the Republican side. The South Atlantic in 2016 varied from D+5 (VA) to R+14 (SC), whereas the Deep South ranged from R+18 (MS) to R+28 (AL).

Then there is the case of Texas. In 2000 and 2004 it was one of the most Republican states, when Bush 43 was on the ticket. It has backed off since, and though voting with the Deep South in 2008 and 2012, turned against Donald Trump somewhat in 2016 (from R+16 to R+9).

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see if the split widens, which would push more of the South Atlantic states into “swing” status. And if the trendline of Texas over the past 3 elections continues, it may open up a new electoral front.