What Causes Poor Uneducated White People To Vote For Republican?

According to a recent article by Quiet Mike, “Republicans like to say they are all about responsibility.” Then they turn around and support things like the SCOTUS decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, which takes personal responsibility away from citizens and places it in the hands of the corporation.

Their politicians lied to engage our country in a war justified by a search for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Now they are trying to blame the entire Iraq war on President Obama.

The Republicans advocate cutting food stamps, unemployment, education, and health care – all while cutting taxes for the wealthy. The GOP has a long history of demonizing poor people. The relatively new Tea Party crowd and the Libertarians have the reigning attitude of “go fend for yourself” when it comes to providing any type of assistance to the poor.

If You’re Poor, You’re Just Lazy

Republicans consistently garner a large chunk of their votes from poor, white, uneducated voters. Why? What causes poor uneducated white people to vote Republican?

Some of it may be attributed to the many gerrymandered districts. Some is due to the active voter suppression tactics the GOP has been employing not only in the present but historically as well. But those are not the only reasons for this trend.

Paul Weyrich has been labeled as one of the founding fathers of the modern conservative movement. Weyrich often proclaims that he doesn’t want people to vote. It is his contention that the fewer people who vote, the better the GOP chances are of winning elections. In this writer’s view, some of this desire to limit voting is due to racism.

What is even more striking is that we have seen where this behavior by the uneducated, low-income white voter has worked against their best interest. Sadly, this seems to be the norm. This reality is what makes this whole topic puzzling. A quick example is to view North Carolina where predominantly low-income voters have loaded up the legislature with one of the most radical right-wing factions of government in the country. What did they get in return? A tax increase.

This political reality did not spring up overnight. What we are seeing is the aggravated side effects of the decades-long Southern Strategy.

What is the Southern Strategy?

In American politics, the Southern Strategy refers to a Republican Party strategy to gain political support for certain candidates “in the southern United States by appealing to racism against African Americans.” Lee Atwater reintroduced this political tactic in the early 1980s, refining it from its origins in the 1960s and bringing it into the current political scene.

Let’s not pull any punches here. The Southern Strategy’s main purpose was to transform the south from blue states to red states by invoking the reality of institutional racism. This transformation is one of the most significant in American history. It is also one of the main factors that make modern politics what it is today. However, this transformation remains a mystery to most people. People did not just wake up one day and start voting for Republicans in the south. There had to be a plan.

The Rise Of The Southern Middle Class In The South

Changing demographics played a role in this strategy. With most industrialization and factories locating in the northern states, many black families left the south to relocate to the north. All the while, the white middle class was growing in the south. With this migration of blacks to the north, many whites in northern states migrated down south. This migration lowered the black population in the south and increased the white population. This change in demographics alone set the table for a racist political strategy to take root.

Many of the whites that moved from the north were of a different mindset than that of the traditional southerner. Around this time, the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, the economics of the south improved, and this change in demographics and economy gave the south much more power politically than it had before this transformation. These new southern implants from the north were not as preoccupied with the racial issues as the traditional southerner. The Civil War was not an issue for these new southern citizens.

These northern implants to the south were a different brand of Republican. More moderate and centered politically than the far-right and radical southern Republicans. They were agreeable to the issues of lower taxes, individual freedoms, and less government regulation. This new dynamic created a different electorate in the south. This change in the south raised eyebrows with the Republican Party elites and gave rise to an opportunity for a minority party to garner a foothold in this region of the country.

These changing demographics also ushered in non-traditional type industries that started locating in the south. Industries like communications and high-tech industries settled into the Research Triangle in North Carolina. With these changes also came more urbanization in the south. Cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston experienced phenomenal growth. All of these factors served to change the political landscape in the south.

The most dramatic change on the political front was the push by the national Democratic Party for the rights of African-American citizens. Prior to this movement, the Democratic Party had not been particularly favorable of civil rights for blacks. For example, Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) failed to endorse anti-lynching legislation. FDR did not support this legislation in fear that he would antagonize the southern members of the house and senate who would not pass other legislation he deemed more important.

Starting in the late 1940s the Democratic Party began to adopt civil rights legislation. President Truman integrated the military after World War II. The very first-time civil rights legislation became a part of any political party’s platform was by the Democrats in 1948. This eventually led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

The Democratic Party’s association with civil rights was gradual. The change started in the 1940s but was largely interrupted in the 1950s under a Republican president.

SCOTUS delivered the Brown v.Board of Education decision in 1954, beginning the forced integration of public schools. All the civil unrest that sprang up from the integration was blamed on the Republican president by angry white bigots in the region.

To traditional whites from the south, these changes represented the old horror stories of the Reconstruction Era that followed the Civil War. In the 1960s, with the changing of the political guard in Washington to John F. Kennedy and later Lyndon Johnson who made a public commitment and contract with the American people on civil rights, there was no turning back.

While many presidential historians don’t give President Johnson high marks on being a principled politician, it is without question that his efforts are the main reason we have civil rights for all minorities in this country today. It was Johnson who championed the coalitions. He was fully aware that this would spell doom for the Democratic Party in the south, but he went forward with it because he thought it was the right thing to do.

This change and political posturing in the 1940s and again in the 1960s created a real crisis for the party in the south. Many southern Democrats became angry with the party over this legislation. One of the common quotes bandied about in those days was, “We did not leave the party, the party left us,” which represented the mindset of many southern Democrats at that time.

The attitude was that the Democratic Party they knew and loved had changed. In response to this, the hierarchy in the Republican Party saw an opportunity. In fairness, it must be mentioned that unlike the Republican Party of today, moderation was the order in the party, and Eisenhower sending in troops to restore order in the late 1950s is a great example.

The Changing Times Of The Political South

With this new development and the emergence of the Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party being shunned, there were many in the Republican Party who felt that moderation should step aside to a more right-wing conservative approach. The Dixiecrats represented a huge block of votes that the Republican elites needed to implement their mantra of less government regulation and lower taxes.

With the changing dynamics taking place in the south, the Republicans were salivating for these new voters. In 1964, the Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater as their presidential candidate. Goldwater was considered a right-wing conservative, which caused some strife within the more moderate wing of the party. Their fears seemed to be realized when Goldwater went down in defeat. After that, the party began to focus more and more on social and religious issues.

By the time the 1968 elections rolled around, the Republicans had a plan which was the early stages of what became known as the Southern Strategy. The Nixon campaign walked a fine line trying not to be overtly racist, but his campaign did use soft-sell language that sent a subtle message to southern voters: “If you are not happy with the civil rights laws we are your solution.”

The Wedge Issues

Issues like forced busing, which drove a wedge between some traditional southern Democrats and the Democratic Party, allowed opportunities for the Republican Party to capitalize on. The Republican Party used the term “forced busing” because it was not overtly racist, but it did function as a code to incite the racist whites of the south.

Affirmative action was also a wedge issue in the United States at that time. It was used effectively by the Republicans to weaken the southern Democratic coalition. In practice, this drove a wedge between blacks and Jews. Up to this point, most Jews had been sympathetic to civil rights legislation. However, affirmative action reminded many Jews of the days of quotas and created a division of viewpoints within the Jewish community. For the Jew, quotas meant only a certain number could take place in jobs, schools, and so forth.

There were many of these wedge-type issues whose language was not overtly racist but were code for racists. The biggest wedge issue in American political history has been abortion.

Nixon was in favor of civil rights, but he knew that to win the south he had to play the part and be disingenuous. This tactic worked very well for Nixon. In essence, Nixon fooled a huge block of poor uneducated white voters in the south to gain the win. Some say he would have swept the south had it not been for third party racist George Wallace. This was, in effect, the origin of the Southern Strategy for the Republican Party.

The Transformation Of The South Was Decades In The Making

Even though southerners had voted for a Republican president in the 1950s and with Nixon in the late 1960s, the Democrats continued to dominate in local, state, house, and senate elections. That transformation has taken decades and was a two-staged process. A top-down process. This reality has very important implications regarding party identification. The distribution of voters between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents is different in the south. Historically, southern Republican voters in the 1980s were more moderate. The conservative southern voter tended to identify as Independent. These Independent voters tended to be the old Dixiecrat voters, the George Wallace crowd.

It was these racist, old southern Democrats who were the last to transform themselves into card-carrying Republicans. This has set up a dynamic in the south that has made politics very distinct but also has very important implications for the rest of the country.

Primary elections determine who will be nominated to run in the general elections. What we have learned is that people who vote in the primaries are generally the most passionate about the issues of the day and, more importantly, most loyal to the party of their choice. These voters are quite different than people who just vote in the general elections. What has transpired from this difference is that candidates that do well in the primary elections don’t always fare as well in the general elections. This is paramount for a minority party like the Republicans. The primaries tend to be way more important to them than to the Democrats.

In the Democratic Party, most candidates from the south tend to be in step with the national Democrats as a whole, which is basically the more liberal wing of the party. Moreover, because of the civil rights legislation and the Democrat’s position on many of the wedge issues, Democrats have overwhelmingly garnered the black, Hispanic, and feminist vote in the country. This reality has led to very successful general election outcomes for the Democratic Party over the years. In order to be successful, a political candidate must get the support of the party loyalists, and must also attract what has become known as the swing voter. Getting the support of these swing voters has become an issue for Democrats in the south. On the other hand, in the Republican primaries, appealing to the loyalist base is pretty much a given, but attracting the swing voter is more difficult.

A distinct trait in the south to this very day is that the swing voters tend to be the old Dixiecrat voters. The now-aging George Wallace crowd has become the new racist Tea Party crowd. The growing number of white supremacist anti-government groups are now the swing voters in the south. The reality of creating unconstitutionally gerrymandered voting districts by implementing illegal voter suppression laws has made the primaries vital in the transformation of power in the south.

Gerrymandering Has Created Republican ‘Safe Zones’

Changes in district boundaries have made it increasingly hard for Democrats to win general elections in the south. These tactics and their success have placed the Democrats at a huge disadvantage. This all started in the 1970s and has become the standard operating procedure in the region.

This strategy of mobilizing the core supporters has intersected with the issue of race in a startling way. The Republican Party’s commitment to the Southern Strategy basically meant that the party was writing off the black vote. The party decided they would have to find a way to win without the black vote.

The Republican Party had to win more of the white vote in the south. A startling statistic used in Republican campaigns is called “white votes needed.” What has created a huge problem for the Republicans in modern-day politics is the upswing in political participation by blacks, Hispanics and women. This new reality has created a situation where the Republicans now need to win what is called a super-majority of the white vote.

The Republicans need to get no less than 60 percent of the white vote. In this writer’s view, getting 60 percent of white people to agree on anything is almost impossible. So, the Republicans decided to use the one issue that they felt could galvanize the electorate to their side – race.

The thinking is that most white southerners harbor some form of prejudice towards blacks. This reality is more prevalent than in the poor white uneducated population of the south than anywhere else. Poor whites have a desire to feel superior to something or somebody – blacks and now Hispanics fill that need.

This political strategy is unfortunate. It has created a huge divide in our country. What is really tragic is the Republican Party is stuck with this strategy because to abandon it would amount to political suicide. This approach does not fare well for the Democratic Party unless we, as liberals, can champion a cause of enlightenment and education.

Voter participation is the key to change. The Republicans want you to be discouraged by the process. They want you to surrender to their desire. If you’re not going to vote Republican, they are of the opinion that you should not be allowed to vote at all.

The Democrats face many disadvantages in the south. To get the issues of gridlock and obstruction from our governess, we must not be idle observers. I think Pastor William Barbour, who hails from my hometown of Goldsboro, North Carolina said it best.