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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Preview of the Coming Progressive South

Bob Moser, author of “Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority,” kicks off a four-part series at The American Prospect with “The End of the Solid South.” Moser, the Prospect’s executive editor, makes a compelling argument that the region is rapidly becoming the pivotal battleground for U.S. politics — and it’s all good news for Dems:

Over the next two decades, it will become clear to even the most clueless Yankee that the Solid South is long gone. The politics of the region’s five most populous states–Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Texas–will be defined by the emerging majority that gave Obama his winning margins. The under-30 voters in these states are ethnically diverse, they lean heavily Democratic, and they are just beginning to vote. The white population percentage is steadily declining; in Georgia, just 52 percent of those under 18 are white, a number so low it would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
By the 2020s, more than two-thirds of the South’s electoral votes could be up for grabs. (The South is defined here as the 11 states of the former Confederacy.) If all five big states went blue, with their 111 electoral votes, only 49 votes would be left for Republicans. (That’s based on the current electoral-vote count; after the next census, the fast-growing states will have more.) Win or lose, simply making Southern states competitive is a boon to Democrats. If Republicans are forced to spend time and resources to defend Texas and Georgia, they’ll have less for traditional battlegrounds like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Even if Democrats aren’t competitive in those states for another decade, they will benefit from connecting with millions of nonvoters who haven’t heard their message. They are building for a demographic future that Republicans dread: the time when overwhelming white support will no longer be enough to win a statewide election in Texas and Georgia.

Moser describes the brutal gerrymandering conducted by the Republicans in the southern states and notes how it paid off for them in 2012, but adds:

…The voters are moving left, while the state governments are lurching right. The only safe prediction is that after 150 years of being largely ignored in national elections, the South is about to become the most fiercely contested, and unpredictable, political battleground in America…To this day, Americans still think “rural” when they think “Southern.” But there’s nothing very rural about the South anymore. Florida is 91 percent urban, Georgia and Virginia 75 percent, and in probably the biggest surprise, Texas is 85 percent urban.

He notes the ‘Great Remigration,’ African Americans coming back to the south in ever-increasing numbers:

Last decade, 75 percent of the growth in America’s black population was in the South. Atlanta and its endless suburbs gained 491,000 African Americans in the past decade, more than any other city. Some are middle-class blacks whose families once relied on government jobs up North that are now disappearing. Some are caring for older relatives left behind in the Great Migration. Some are simply coming home to reunite with their families, finding a region that has undergone seismic changes since the South’s segregated “way of life” finally came to a merciful end.

Add to that the accelerating growth of the Latino population:

…By 2010, 49 percent of newborns in Texas were Latino. Among the big five Southern states, Virginia has the lowest rate at 12 percent. Hundreds of thousands of young Latinos become eligible to vote in the South every year, and that number will be climbing for decades. At least for now, this strongly favors Democrats, who win Latino votes by large margins. Florida used to be the exception, because first-generation (and often second-generation) Cuban Americans were staunch, anti-communist Republicans. But younger Cuban Americans have joined a new immigrant population in Central Florida to help flip the state in the Democrats’ favor.
The key is getting Latinos to the polls–and it’s been a challenge in most Southern states. In 2010, for instance, Latinos were 38 percent of Texas’s population. But just 16 percent of eligible Latinos voted as Republicans won historically big margins in both legislative chambers. The poor turnout is partly a factor of youth. Latinos are, on average, a decade younger than Anglos. Most are not in the habit of voting. If they live in a state like Texas or Georgia, it’s likely that nobody has ever courted their vote.
Once Latinos begin to vote in proportion to their population, the change that they will bring to Southern (and American) politics won’t be limited to a shift in party loyalties. It will be manifested in a new progressivism as well.
Republicans like to talk about how Latinos are “hardworking, religious, family-oriented,” as if those qualities automatically made people conservative. In fact, an exit poll from 2012 showed the opposite: Latino voters are not only more liberal than Republicans; they’re sometimes more liberal than Democrats. On same-sex marriage, 59 percent said yes, against 48 percent of all voters. Should abortion be legal? Sixty-six percent said yes, against 59 percent overall. On economic issues, Latinos’ liberalism tends to be even more pronounced (the same is true for African Americans). Fifty-five percent said last year that they have a negative view of capitalism. They want more spending on public schools. They want universal, public-run health care. They want government to take a strong hand in the economy. Taxes? Raise them, if it means better social services. The same goes for every part of the South’s emerging majority–African Americans, Asian Americans, and under-30 whites who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Clearly the GOP will have to exercise considerable creativity to get a healthy bite of the Latino vote in the south , which may alienate their tea party base. And Moser notes that Dems face formidable obstacles in the region, including gerrymandered districts through 2020 and a strong possibility that the Supreme Court will invalidate the Voting Rights Act or render it impotent, thereby encouraging voter suppression in the region.
However, concludes Moser:

More likely, destiny will follow demography. The South’s big states could soon be undergirding a durable national Democratic majority that’s capable of lasting as long as the New Deal consensus. Liberalism would have a chance to flourish anew–not just in state capitols but in Washington, D.C., as well…From Teddy Roosevelt’s Square Deal to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to Barack Obama’s stimulus and heath-care overhaul, the biggest obstacle has always been Congress’s solid white wall of Southern conservatism. That wall is crumbling. In the future, if you can be progressive and win Texas or Georgia, the American political order will transform in ways we can barely comprehend.

As America prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s dream, it’s encouraging to know that such a positive transformation of the region he loved and struggled to change is well underway.

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