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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Two Paths to a Blue South

Do give a read to Jenee Desmond-Harris’s post, “Will White Voters in the Black Belt Ever Get Out of Their Own Way?” at The Root. It’s a great title, which encapsulates the political neurosis of too many white voters in the south who habitually vote against their own economic interests. But it also contains a couple of insight nuggets, including:

In the area of the American South informally known as the Black Belt, cross-racial political coalitions should form naturally. After all, the poverty rate in the region hovers around 16.5 percent and cuts across racial lines. Plus, polling has shown that white Southerners hold populist views similar to those of their black neighbors–the majority agreeing that the government should spend more on health, education and improving people’s standard of living.

Desmond-Harris quotes former NAACP President Ben Jealous, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress:

“White conservative leaders have systemically undermined these coalitions by playing up racially divisive wedge issues” and “the strategy of divide and conquer has worked…In recent years, candidates in the Black Belt have consistently voted differently than voters of color, even if this has meant voting against their economic self-interest.”

Desmond-Harris adds, “Repairing this disconnect–and building coalitions based on shared interests–is…”the key to transformative political power” in the region.
Further, Even if white voters don’t budge…there’s still the possibility of change when it comes to race and political representation. “Registering just 30 percent of unregistered black voters would yield enough new voters to upset the balance of power in North Carolina and Virginia in presidential or midterm election year,” says Jealous. This, he predicts, “could allow voters of color to elect a candidate of their choice, and, at a minimum, affect the political decisions of all candidates in the race.”
For Dems, the challenge is not to pursue one path or the other, but to work like hell to support both of them.

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