In its Opinion Pages, The New York Times recently asked a number of thinkers from the region why the American South remains so conservative, showing a particular interest in what produces religious, social, and political views and how they relate. The effort includes responses from professors from schools across the South, plus Hastings Wyman, (founding editor of Southern Political Report).
Pearl K. Ford Dowe (assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas) blames the rightward drift of the South on white Southerners’ attempt to hold onto some remnant of white privilege. She says white Southerners support “policies that conflict with their own economic realities.” She says this stems from the unwillingness of white Southerners to form political alliances with African-American partners. This reluctance is based on “the belief that immigrants and African-Americans are gaining unfair advantages and that the government that leveled the playing field for all Americans is not theirs.”
Kareem U. Crayton (associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina School of Law) asserts that the social agenda in the South is determined by religion. He says “guns, gays, and God” trump other campaign issues in the South, where church attendance is high, especially among protestant evangelicals. “The marriage between social and economic conservatism dates to the late 1960s, when the Republican Party developed a critique of the Great Society (the zenith of government liberalism) that bridged concerns about social entitlement programs as well as hot-button social issues that include abortion, prayer in schools and gun control.”
Joseph Crespino (professor of history at Emory University) claims moderate white Democrats were silenced by the redrawing of Congressional districts in 1982. The purpose of the redistricting was ostensibly to give black voters greater representation. In “an odd alliance between Southern blacks and white conservatives,” officials redrew the districts in ways that packed certain districts with black voters and left white conservatives in control of the remaining districts — leaving moderate whites with little voice in elections. Crespino points out that the South was a strong Democratic force well through the 1970s, and a major factor in the elections of Jimmy Carter and even Bill Clinton.
See Room for Debate for other expert perspectives. How do you view conservativism in the South?