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Southern realignment nears completion


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Every so often there is an election that marks the beginning of a new political order.  These elections normally mark the beginning of one parties dominance, or the beginning of new electoral and regional trends in elections.  These elections are known as Realigning Elections.  Many commentators jump at the opportunity to label different races a realignment (conservatives claiming 1994 counts, liberals claiming 2008 counts).  However, only a few true realigning elections exist, each with historical consensus.

1800 — Beginning of Democratic-Republican rule with the election of Thomas Jefferson and lasting until 1824 when the party splits into four factions.  This marks the beginning of the end of the Federalist Party on a national stage.

1828 — Beginning of Democratic Party prominence with the election of Andrew Jackson with the Whig party mostly the minority through 1856 (only electing Presidents in 1840 and 1848).

1860 — Republican Party dominance through and post civil war that lasts till 1876 with Democrats not electing another President till 1884 (although winning popular vote in 1876).  Regional dynamic established with Democrats dominating the south, Republicans dominating the north, and only a few swing states (namely Indiana and New York) deciding elections.

1896 — Republican dominance re-energized with support of business class (beginning of large sums of money being raised) while Democrats remain fractured and divided between a populist faction and more industrial faction (with key differences over the gold standard and trade policy).

1932 — Democratic dominance with the New Deal coalition that will last till the 1960s that begins with FDR’s election in 1932.  The coalition comprised of minorities, white southerners, working poor, intellectuals, party machines, liberal farmers, and the labor unions.


1964 Election – Regional Realignment

The above elections mark clear changes in the political landscape of America.  However, there is one other election that can fit in this category, and that is the 1964 Elections.  This year, which saw Democrat Lyndon Johnson defeat Republican Barry Goldwater is a landslide, marked the beginning of a regional realignment in the United States.  It was during this time that Johnson pushed a strong liberal agenda of civil rights and government aid.  His quest was helped with liberal Democrats elected from the north and Midwest in the 1958 midterms and those who would be elected in 1964 as well.  The programs of Johnson, programs that the Democratic Party would make a key component of their platform for decades to come, were deeply unpopular in the south.   Since the end of the civil war the south was the Democrat’s key region, an area that always voted Democratic.  It wasn’t until 1920 that southern states began to defect to Republicans in landslide years.  However, Republicans never played in the Deep South states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina.  Democrats controlled this region while Republicans controlled much of the north; with key swing states deciding elections in close years.  Democrats could make strong showing in the north with FDR and other candidates, but Republicans never won the deep south no matter how big there presidential wins.  However, 1964 changed all that.  Johnson’s civil rights platform caused Republican Barry Goldwater to win the deep south states (the other state he won other than Arizona, his home).  His wins in the states where not narrow, with him winning Mississippi with over 85% of the vote.  In addition, Republicans gained congressional seats in these deep south states (despite Democratic wins in other regions) and Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond becoming the first major southern Democrat to switch to Republican.

That year marked only the beginning of the realignment of the south toward the Republican Party (and at the same time a realignment of the northeast to the Democratic Party).  Republicans would make strong gains in house, Senate, and governor races  as the realignment continued through the 1966 Republicans gains, the 1980 and 1988 Reagan landslide, and the 1994 Republican gains.  However, one key area of southern government remained in Democratic control; the state-houses.  With every Republican wave Democrats managed to hang onto the state houses of several deep south states.  Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee,  and Mississippi’s lower and upper houses always remained Democrat into the 2000s.  Mississippi’s Senate went Republican in 03, while the North Carolina house briefly went Republican in the 90s.  The Georgia and South Carolina legislatures already went Republican some time ago, but other state legislative Democrats had managed to hold on repeatedly.

The graphs below (taken from this site,  http://voteview.spia.uga.edu/blog/?p=1014) show Republican gains in the south have been slowly building since 1964.  When it comes to the house and senate, Republicans passed 50% following the 1994 midterms, where Republicans successfully nationalized many southern races and made large gains in the south.  However, even through 1994 the state legislative seats stayed below 50%, only rising from a low 30% to 40%.

First lets look at US House and US Senate percentages.

The two above graphs clearly show that in 1994 the federal seats went to over 50% Republican in 1994 and never went below that margin, even with the blue waves of 2006 and 2008.  Now look below to the state legislative percentages

As the state legislative map shows, the legislatures always lagged behind the federal races when it came to Republican gains.  In fact, even with Republicans making slow gains in the southern legislators following 1994, Republicans never got to 50% of the legislative seats of the south until 2002-2008 range.  Even with all there gains federally, Republican could not achieve dominance at the state legislative level.

That is until 2010….

In the 2010 midterms, where Democrats had one of their worst performances in modern political history; they finally began to lose the last of the southern state-houses.   Not only did they loose many seats, but several rural white Democrats switched parties to the GOP.  At the end of it all, only Arkansas and the Mississippi house remain in Democratic control (you could also say the Virginia Senate, but Virginia, like Kentucky, are more of border states politically).  The events of 2010 marked a major sea-change in the south.  For decades these state legislators had been able to separate themselves from the national Democratic Party.  However, just like many southern Democratic congressman have fallen since the realignment began, this final bastion of state legislators fell as well.  By the end 2010, Republicans had control of 60% of the state legislative seats.

To read more about the nationalization of local and congressional races, look to my last first blog entry “The End of All Politics is Local”

The election results are only one part of this, but also the fact that after the elections, a staggering 24 democratic legislators switched to the Republican Party.  

2010 was indeed a major year for southern politics.  Lets take a look at what happened in each of these southern states.


The results of 2010 are the most apparent in Alabama.  For the firs time since Reconstruction, Republicans gained control of the Alabama legislature, taking control of both chambers for the first time.  It was a shocking win compounded by 4 additional Democrats in the state house switching parties to join the Republicans.  Those switches ensured Republicans not only controlled both chambers, but also controlled a 60%+ super majority in both.  It was a truly shocking turn of events.   Look at the maps below to see how dramatic the shift was.  The map results include party switches after the elections.

State House

First the state house, where Democrats went from 60% control to 38.8% control.  In total they lost 20 house seats (17 on election night, had 4 democratic defections, but 1 republican defection to them).

Republicans gains where all over the rura and federally Republican areas.  The wins in the north area especially important, as this was a long democratic area (at the local level and for congressman) thanks to loyalty to FDR and the new deal.  However, now that area is largely in the red.

State Senate

The state senate was a similar bloodbath.  Democrats went from 57% control to 34%.  Republicans gains where over in the north and east, they lost 7 of their 20 seats to Republicans, and 1 other seat to an independent.

Democrats best holds in both houses where in the mid/south west where there is a strong black population.  Otherwise they lost many of their rural white Democratic companions.  In fact, now26 of the remaining 39 Democratic state house members are black, marking a growing racial polarization in the state legislature that’s similar to the congressional delegation.


Louisiana has no state elections till this fall, but already major shifts have happened in the state house.  Six Democratic defections resulted in Republican gaining control of both chambers for the first time since reconstruction.  This could very well be in anticipation of a tough time in 2011.  Not only did these switches happened, but the Democratic Attorney General, the last state-wide Democrat, switch parties as well.   The state now sees itself in total Republican control without an election.  Party switches are a common part of realignments, and Louisiana helps reinforce the realignment of 64 is almost complete.


This is an update to the original post, now following the 2011 jungle primary in Louisiana.  A few days ago, the state had its first round of elections for state-wide races and legislative races.  The system works where everyone runs on a blanked ballot, and if no one gets 50%, the top 2 go to a runoff.   In the Governor’s race, Republican Bobby Jindal easily crushed all opposition when the Democrats failed to nominate a high-profile challenger to the incumbent governor.  In addition, Democrats failed to field candidates for Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and half of the state legislative seats.  Some runoffs will determin finally composition of the legislature, but Democrats are not expected to have gained any ground, they are possibly going to be 1 more seat down in the state senate, and maybe lose a few more in the house, or have no net change.  Overall, considering they held the legislature until the party switching last winter, their inability to make a real shot at taking the legislature back shows how the state Democratic party is on life support.

Meanwhile, Jindal crushed his opposition, getting 66% of the vote in the first round.. the largest percentage for a first round win, and one of the overall largest percentages in modern Louisiana history.  Jindal won EVERY county, even getting a plurality in Democratic-favored Orleans county.

The results show Republican fortunes in Louisiana continues to get better and better every year.

North Carolina

North Carolina saw the same monumental shift that Alabama saw in 2010.  The state Senate in North Carolina had not been Republican since the 1890s, and the state house had only been Republican for a few years in the 1990s.  However, by the end of election night, Republicans took a commanding lead in both chambers.

State House

In the state house, Democratic control fell from 56% to 43%.  Gains where scattered throughout the state in the rural republican areas.  In addition to the loses to Republicans, a Democratic incumbent actually lost his seat to a conservative independent who now caucus’s with the Republican majority.

State Senate

Republicans gains in the state senate where even more severe.  Democrats went from 60% majority to 38% after losing a staggering 16 of their 30 seats.  They heavily lost their seats in the rural south and west.

North Carolina’s legislature is now in Republican control for the first time in 120 years.


Tennessee is not one of the so-called “Deep South” states, but still is very much southern.  The state has continued a trend toward Republicans like its counterparts of the region.  The state Senate has already been claimed by the Republicans, but the state house long remained in Democratic control.  However, the realignment neared completion in 2008 when Republicans gained 5 state house seats to acquire 50 of the 99 seats.  This was all amid a blue year that saw Obama win in a landslide, but actually perform slightly worse in Tennessee than John Kerry had.  Tennessee’s move to Republicans was clearly not hampered by the blue year.

However, control of the state house was denied to the Republicans when Kent Williams, a moderate Republican, sided with the 49 Democrats to create a coalition of 50 members, with Williams as the leader.  This denied Republicans control of both chambers, something that would have been a first since reconstruction.  However, the Democrats hold on power did not last much longer.

First, a special election for a house seat in late 2009 saw a Democratic seat go Republican.  This gave Republicans 50 of the 99 seats.  However, leadership decisions where binding till the next general election, so Democrats technically maintained power via their alliance with Williams.  Then, 2010 came around, and Republicans crushed the Democrats, gaining 14 seats and putting them in commanding majority.

On top of controlling both legislative chambers, Republicans won the governor’s race with 65% of the vote.  For the first time since reconstruction, Republicans control all aspects of the state government. In addition, both Senators are Republican, and the three Republican gains in the congressional races leave the GOP with 7 of the 9 congressional seats.  Tennessee is now a deep red state.



Like Louisiana, Mississippi will hold its state legislative races in the fall of 2011, and what happens will say alot about the realignment in the state.  Already though, Mississippi trends more and more Republican at the local level, electing Republican governors on two occasions (including ousting Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove in 2003), and seeing Democrats switch parties throughout the 2000s.  Republicans control the state senate thanks to three Democrats that switched parties (as well as one switching in the state house).  Republicans have previously controlled the Senate thanks to party switching in 2003, but lost control in 2007.  Democrats in the house and senate had hoped to get redistricting done before the elections of 2011 so they could gerrymander themselves into safety, however, they where unable to get the process completed.  There is talk Republicans could expand their Senate lead as well as gain the state house for the first time since reconstruction.  Such a move would be a major event in Mississippi politics.

While this post aims to talk about state based politics more than federal, there is still a federal race worth looking at from 2010, the race of Democratic Rep Gene Taylor.  Representative Taylor represented the 4th congressional district in Mississippi, a rural southern district that votes heavily Republican for President.  However, since 1989 when Taylor won the seat, he was always re-elected as a Democrat.  Taylor would often win with over 60% or 70%.  He was one of the most, if not the most, conservative Democrat in the house, and even said he voted for Republican John McCain for President.  However, 2010 was such a tough year for Democrats, and with their southern loses especially bad, Taylor lost his seat with only 46.85% of the vote.

Taylor outperformed Obama in the district (Obama didn’t win those blue counties in the very south), but Taylor still lost despite all his years of seniority and conservative beliefs.  The district  simply didn’t want a Democrat anymore.


FOLLOWING THE 2011 FALL ELECTIONS, THE REALIGNMENT IN MISSISSIPPI HAS COME TO COMPLETION.  Republicans gained 3 more seats in the state senate (and another Democrat switched the day after the elections, bring the total gains to 4).  In addition, Democrats lost control of the state house for the first time since the civil war, losing a net of 9 seats (gaining three, but losing 12), consolidating support in the south and north.

In addition, the governor’s race had major implications, as Republican Phil Bryant was able to get 61% of the vote.  Normally, Democrats are expected to have a floor of at least 40% thanks to the large and loyal African American population of the state, however, the fell below it as Bryant won all the strongly white counties and even one a majority-black county.  The only counties that went for the democrat where majority black (with the exception of one, where the white and black populations where nearly equal).

While Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood won a convincing re-election, the long-serving AG has strong ties with the state.  Republicans held every other state-wide office, and continued to make gains in regional down ballot offices.  Hood is the only strong democrat left, and when he retires, its all red for the state.


Arkansas has been one of the tougher southern states for Republicans to make gains in.  While the state votes Republican more than Democrat in these latest elections (and didn’t budge closer to Obama than Kerry in 2008), the state’s legialature still remains in Democratic control, and the state has only elected a Republican governor 3 times in 130 years (just re-elected Democrat Mike Beebe with over 60% in 2010).  However, while Beebe, who is very popular, was easily re-elected, the tides indeed have begun to shift when it comes to the state legislature.  Republicans first gained several state-wide cabinet level races and made heavy gains in the two legislative chambers.  The main reason Republicans did not gain control was because both chambers where already heavily Democratic.

State House

Before 2010, Democrats had 72 of the 100 state house seats in Arkansas.  However, following the elections, they where down to 55.  Republicans made strong gains along the rural white north and west, while Dems only made one gain.  The results put Republican much closer to control of the chamber.

State Senate

Before 2010, Democrats controlled a whopping 27 of the 35 state senate seats (77%).  In 2010, half of the seats where up for election, and Republicans gained 7 seats out of the 15 seats the Democrats where defending.  The result is Democrats controlling 20 of the 35 seats (57%).  One can’t help but wonder if the entire Senate was in play, would Republicans now control that chamber?

Thanks to Democratic super-majorities in both chambers of the Arkansas legislature, Republicans couldn’t get majorities just yet.  However, the Republicans wins in 2010 where very harsh, and it seems like it is only a matter of time before Republicans take control of the Arkansas legislature.

Georgia and South Carolina

Like other southern states, Georgia has seen several Democrats switch to the Republican Party since the 2010 elections.  In total, 8 Democrats (7 in the house and 1 in the Senate) switched sides.  Republicans already control both chambers, but the switches helped cement their majorities over 60%.  In addition, Republican Nathan Deal won the governors race with a 10 point margin over former Democratic governor Roy Barnes.  Deal was actually a Democrat in congress when elected but switched parties after 1994 and served as a Republican since.  Now governor, Deal represents the trend of white conservatives of the south away from the Democrats and to the GOP.

In South Carolina Republicans gained 4 more state house seats to bring their majority above 60%, while the state Senate (also in Republican hands) wasn’t up for re-election.  In addition, South Carolina had a notable federal race, when long-time incumbent Democrat John Spratt, first elected in 1983, who was Chair of the House Budget Committee, was defeated 45% to 55%.

Spratt’s county win was similar to those Obama won in 2008, although Spratt did outperform Obama in the district.  Spratt, overall though, became your standard Democrat to the voters in his district, and it cost him his seat.


Some in the blogosphere have already tried to talk about 2010 being a realigning election, but that is simply not true.  Rather, 2010 marks the the realignment that began in 1964 coming to a close.  Rural white Democrats are either being defeated or defecting to the GOP.  No longer can rural white Democrats count on senority or name recongition to secure their re-election. At the end of the day, even the most low ticket races are being nationalized, and its harder and harder for southern democrats to serperate from their national party.

Republicans are now the dominant party in the south.  Many southern democrats have commented (mostly off record) that it will be a tough road for their party in these southern states and that dominance once again is likely not in the cards.  With Democrats cementing dominance in the northeast and Pacific coast, this is more of a balanced regional shift.  Overall its hard to say either party benefits or suffers from this new shift, its simply a reality.  President Obama had the worst performance in the south for any winning Democrat, but still won in a landslide.  In addition, Democrats have many potential congressional and Senate races to gain in the north.  By no means should Democrats concede the south, the same way Republicans shouldn’t conceded many blue states.  However, the trend lines are clear over the last 40 years, and that is the fact that Republican dominance in the south continues to grow, and its finally caught up at the state legislative level.  Politico had an article after the 2010 elections that sums up what has happened…. “The Democratic South finally falls.”  


1 Comment

  1. […] of the “southern realignment” toward the Republican Party (see that post here https://mattsmaps.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/southern-realignment-nears-completion/).   The results where a dramatic move toward the Republican Party in the state, giving them […]

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