The term Southern politics refers to the political landscape of the Southern United States . Due to the region's unique cultural and historical heritage with slavery, the American South has been predominantly involved in many political issues. Some of these issues include States' rights , Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement . From the 1870s to the 1960s, the region was referred to as the Solid South , due to their consistent support for Democratic candidates in all elective offices. As a result, its congressmen gained seniority through many reelections, thus gaining control of powerful committees. In presidential politics, the Deep South began to move away from national Democratic loyalties with the Dixiecrat movement of 1948 and the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign of 1964 . Among white Southerners, Democratic loyalties first fell away at the presidential level, and much later at the state and local levels as well. [16]

Southern states of the US

According to the United States Census Bureau the following states are considered part of the "South."

Other definitions can be more exclusive or more expansive. For example, Missouri is not shown on many maps as a southern state and is considered a border state, yet many Missourians claim that Missouri is in the South. [17]

Post Civil War

At the end of the Civil War, much of the conquered Confederacy lay in ruins. The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 and 1868 placed most of the southern states under military rule, requiring Union Army governors to approve appointed officials and candidates for election. They enfranchised African American citizens and required voters to recite an oath of allegiance to the US Constitution, effectively discouraging passionate supporters of the rebel cause from voting. [2] This was interpreted as anarchy and upheaval by many south of the Mason-Dixon at this time. [18] Democrats had regained power in most Southern states by the late 1870s , and began to pass laws to restrict African Americans from voting. Later, this period came to be referred to as Redemption . From 1890–1908 states of the former Confederacy passed statutes and amendments to their state constitutions that effectively disenfranchised most African Americans and tens of thousands of poor whites in the South. They did this through devices such as poll taxes and literacy tests .

In the 1890s the South split bitterly , with poor cotton farmers moving to the Populist movement. In coalition with the remaining Republicans, the Populists briefly controlled Alabama and North Carolina. The local elites, townspeople, and landowners fought back eventually regained control of the Democratic party by 1898.

20th century

During the 20th century, civil rights was a central issue of Southern politics. African American citizens in the South were treated as second class citizens with limited political rights before 1964.

1948: Dixiecrat revolt

Many Southern Democrats rejected the Democratic Convention over Harry's Truman's civil rights platform. [19] They met at Birmingham, Alabama , and formed political party called the "States' Rights" Democratic Party, more commonly known as the " Dixiecrats ." The main goal of the party was to continue the policy of racial segregation in the South and the Jim Crow laws that sustained it. South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond , who had led the walkout, became the party's presidential nominee. Mississippi Governor Fielding L. Wright received the vice-presidential nomination. Thurmond had a moderate position in South Carolina politics, but with his allegiance with the Dixiecrats, he became the symbol of die-hard segregation. The Dixiecrats had no chance of winning the election themselves since they could not get on the ballot in enough states. Their strategy was to take enough Southern states from Truman to force the election into the House of Representatives, where they could then extract concessions from either Truman or Dewey on racial issues in exchange for their support. Even if Dewey won the election outright, the Dixiecrats hoped that their defection would show that the Democratic Party needed Southern support in order to win national elections, and that this fact would weaken proponents of the Civil Rights Movement among Northern and Western Democrats. However, the Dixiecrats were weakened when most Southern Democratic leaders (such as Governor Herman Talmadge of Georgia and "Boss" E. H. Crump of Tennessee) refused to support the party. In the November election, Thurmond carried the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Outside of these four states, however, it was only listed as a third-party ticket. Although Thurmond did not win the election, he received well over a million popular votes and 39 electoral votes. [16]

Civil Rights Movement

Between 1955 and 1968, a movement towards desegregation began to take place in the American South. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , a Baptist minister, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were highly influential in carrying out a strategy of non-violent protests and demonstrations. African American churches were prominent in organizing their congregations for moral leadership and protest. Protesters rallied against racial laws, through events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott , the Selma to Montgomery marches , the Birmingham campaign , the Greensboro sit-in of 1960 , and the March on Washington in 1963. [16]

Legal changes came in the mid-1960s when President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through Congress the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . It effectively ended segregation. He also pushed through the Voting Rights Act of 1965 , which set strict rules for protecting the right of African Americans to vote–that have since been used to enforce equal rights for women as well as all minorities. [16]

The South becomes Republican

For nearly a century after Reconstruction , the white South strongly identified with the Democratic Party. For this reason, the region was called the Solid South . Republicans controlled parts of the mountains districts and they competed for statewide office in the border states . Before 1948, southern Democrats believed that their party, with its respect for states' rights and appreciation of traditional southern values, was the defender of the southern way of life. Southern Democrats warned against aggressive designs on the part of Northern Liberals and Republicans and civil rights activists whom they denounced as "outside agitators."

The adoption of the first civil rights plank by the 1948 convention and President Harry S. Truman 's Executive Order 9981, which provided for equal treatment and opportunity for African-American servicemen, divided the northern and southern wings of the party. [16] By 1952, however, the brief Dixiecrat revolt was over and the Democratic Party named John Sparkman , a moderate Senator from Alabama, as their vice presidential candidate with the hope of building party loyalty in the South. [16] [16] By the late 1950s, the national Democratic Party again began to embrace the Civil Rights Movement, and the old argument that Southern whites had to vote Democratic to protect segregation grew weaker. Modernization had brought factories, national businesses, and more cosmopolitan cities such as Atlanta , Dallas , Charlotte and Houston to the South. This attracted millions of migrants from the North. They did not bring a heritage of racial segregation, and instead gave priority to modernization and economic growth. [16]

The Civil Rights act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed by bipartisan majorities of northern congressmen. Only a small die-hard element resisted, led by Democratic governors Lester Maddox of Georgia, and especially George Wallace of Alabama. These populist governors appealed to a less-educated, blue-collar electorate which favored the Democratic Party, but opposed desegregation. [16] After the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation in schools in 1954, the integration caused enormous controversy among the white South. For this reason, compliance was very slow in much of the region. [16]

The passage of civil rights legislation meant that the Democratic Party could no longer pose as the champion of protection for southern segregation. Newly enfranchised African American voters began supporting Democratic candidates at the 80-90-percent levels, producing Democratic leaders such as Julian Bond and John Lewis of Georgia, and Barbara Jordan of Texas. Just as Martin Luther King Jr had promised, integration had brought about a new day in Southern politics. [16]

Southerners switched to the Republican Party for non-racial reasons as well. The majority of white southerners shared conservative positions on taxes, moral values, and national security. The Democratic Party had increasingly liberal comprehensive positions that swayed much of the white South to Republican. [28] In addition, the younger generations, who were politically conservative but wealthier and less attached to the Democratic Party, replaced the older generations who were still loyal to the party. [28] The shift to the Republican Party took place slowly and gradually over almost a century. [28]

By the 1990s Republicans were starting to win elections at the statewide and local level throughout the South, even though Democrats retained majorities in several state legislatures through the 2000s and 2010s. [28] [29] By 2014, the region was heavily Republican at the local state and national level. [29] [30] A key element in the change was the transformation of evangelical white Protestants in the south from a largely nonpolitical approach to a heavily Republican commitment. Pew pollsters reported, "In the late 1980s, white evangelicals in the South were still mostly wedded to the Democratic Party while evangelicals outside the South were more aligned with the GOP. But over the course of the next decade or so, the GOP made gains among white Southerners generally and evangelicals in particular, virtually eliminating this regional disparity." [7] Exit polls in the 2004 presidential election showed that Bush led Kerry by 70–30% among Southern whites, who comprised 71% of the voters in the South. Kerry had a 90–9 lead among the 18% of African American Southern voters. One-third of the Southern voters said they were white evangelicals; they voted for Bush by 80–20. [24]

After the 2016 election, every state legislature in the South was GOP-controlled. [31] With the historic flip of Elliott County, Kentucky from Democrat to Republican in 2016, every rural, white-majority county in the Southern United States voted for the Republican nominee. [32]

LGBT rights


In September 2004, Louisiana became the first state adopt a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in the South. This was followed by Arkansas , Georgia , Kentucky , Mississippi , and Oklahoma in November 2004, Texas in 2005, Alabama , South Carolina , Tennessee , and Virginia in 2006, Florida in 2008, and finally North Carolina in 2012. North Carolina became the 30th state to adopt a state constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. [33] Federal courts have repeatedly struck down state laws and state constitutional bans over the years, leading to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Decided on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States held that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional. [34]


A map of the Southern United States (2015), showing which party controls each Governorship and US state legislatures
States with Republican supermajorities in both state chambers and a Republican Governor
States with Republican supermajorities in one chamber, one state chamber controlled by Republicans, and a Republican Governor
States with Republicans controlling both state chambers and a Republican Governor
States with Republicans controlling both state chambers and a Democratic Governor
States with Republicans controlling one state chambers, one state chamber controlled by Democrats, and a Democratic Governor
States with Republican supermajorities in one state chamber, one state chamber controlled by Democrats, and a Democratic Governor
States with Democratic controlling both state chambers and a Republican Governor
States with Democratic supermajorities in both state chambers and a Democratic Governor
States with Democratic supermajorities in one state chamber, one state chamber controlled by Democrats, and a Democratic Governor
States with Democratic controlling both state chambers and a Democratic Governor

While the general trend in the South has shown an increasing dominance of the Republican party, politics in the 21st century are just as contentious and competitive as any time in the region's history. States such as Florida , Virginia , and North Carolina have become swing states ; all three of which voting for Barack Obama in the 2008 United States Presidential Election , as well as in 2012 for Florida and Virginia. Some election experts have speculated that Georgia could become a swing state in 2016 and Texas potentially joining them in the future. This can be explained by the fact that these states are experiencing a decline in their rural populations, an increase in their urban population, an influx of people from more liberal areas, as well as becoming more ethnically diverse. [9] In the 2016 United States Presidential Election , Republican candidate Donald Trump running against Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the majority of Southern states. [17]

Political views and affiliations in the South
Political views and affiliations % living in the South
Hard-Pressed Democrats [10] 48 48
Disaffected [10] 41 41
Bystander [10] 40 40
Main Street Republicans [10] 40 40
New Coalition Democrats [10] 40 40
Staunch Conservative [10] 38 38
Post-Modern [10] 31 31
Libertarian [10] 28 28
Solid Liberal [10] 26 26

See also