By Taylor Vee (with contributions by M.D Balousek).
In light of recent events unfolding throughout America, a great many questions have been raised. One of those includes the feasibility of the “Southern Switch,” otherwise known as the “Southern Realignment.” Left and right party members are pretty much brandishing daggers at one another over the truth behind the party-switching that turned the once Democratic South into a Republican one.
A lot of conservative commentators, running the gamut from Ann Coulter to Dinesh D’souza, have also contributed to the assertion that the switch “didn’t happen” in the way that the left has portrayed it, that it is nothing but a “myth” perpetuated by the left and their apologists, so let’s look at the facts:
The Party System of the United States
When the US first began, the main political parties were not called Democrats and Republicans. The party systems are built upon differing ideals, party platforms, regional leaders, geographical voter bases, and similar values. Here is a brief look at the previous party systems, chronologically ordered:
- The first party system: Federalist and Antifederalist, ranging to the formation of Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans (yes, there was once upon a time such a group). Then, with the Jackson vs. Adams election, the Democratic-Republicans essentially formed into the “small government” favoring South whereas the National Republicans/Whigs favored aristocratic “big government” in the North.
- The second party system: Jacksonian Democrats and National Republicans/Whigs. The Civil War shattered the two main factions into several smaller ones, all revolving around issues of labor, wages, and States’ Rights.
- The third party system: Free-Soilers, Democrats, Republicans (radical, moderate, and conservative), Populists, Know-Nothings, and many more. Issues like Bleeding Kansas, the Civil War, and an influx of immigrants continue to drive a wedge between pro-immigrant Democrats (progressives) and those with a much more conservative outlook.
- The fourth party system: the Progressive era, where politicians started switching their parties and coalitions were forming.
- The fifth party system: FDR, the New Deal Coalition and the Conservative Coalition, followed by the rise of Fascism and Communism.
- The sixth party system: LBJ, Civil Rights, Southern Realignment (the big switch, solid south switch). Reaganomics. Clinton’s Third Way “Neoliberalism.”
- The seventh party system: Present time, running from the end of Clinton’s service to George W. Bush, Obama, and now Trump.
Though this brief look at party systems is short, you can begin to see how and where the platforms of parties began to change. The pivotal point was around the fourth party system, when progressive Republicans began to switch to the Democratic Party, prior to WWI. During this time, there was a struggle for and against modernization of businesses that revolved around free-enterprise, media power, income tax, voting rights, and the separate ideals behind big and small government.
In short, it was not actually the people who “switched.” It was the socially conservative party’s leadership that did. From there, the voter base followed, as any loyal follower of a specific platform would.
The Switch is Not a Myth
There was an article recently written for the Dailywire by Aaron Bandler in which he calls the party switch “mythical” and that the “Left always reverts to the claim that both parties ‘switch’ following the passage of the Civil Rights Act.” However, to call the switch a myth is denying the fact that over time, the ideals separating the Democratic and Republican parties did indeed change. The proof of this is as incontrovertible as the fact that Roosevelt flipped parties.
You simply have to look at voting maps and outcomes throughout the years or check out historical events like Lincoln’s 1860 election, Bryan’s 1896 election, LBJ’s 1964 election, and Nixon’s win in 1968 to see that the viewpoints of both major parties is completely different from where Republicans and Democratic platforms originally began.
The reason why the “Southern Switch” is getting treated to historical revision is because so much changed so quickly throughout history that one point in time cannot be attributed to the switch. Yes, the Civil Rights Act was indeed a catalyst to the Southern Realignment, because it is rooted in the idea of social conservatism (as well as slavery, which Democrat-Republicans like Thomas Jefferson openly engaged in).
Let’s look at it this way:
North – historically pro-banking, pro-immigration, pro-federal power, pro-tax. Political parties inhabiting the north and coastal regions included: Federalists, Whigs, Third Party Republicans, Progressive Republicans, Democrats under LBJ and Clinton, Modern Democrats.
South – historically “rural” in mindset, such as anti-banking, small government, pro-farmer and small business, anti-tax, and populism. Political parties generally included: Anti-Federalists, Democratic-Republicans, Progressive Democrats like Wilson, Republicans (Coolidge, Hoover, Nixon, Bush), Modern Republicans.
The “Solid South Switch” happened slowly, spurred on by the progressive Liberal Democrats. When the Liberal Democrats got the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to get passed, the conservatives that had been hanging onto the Democrat party or vice-versa decided to go for the more conservative party, valuing smaller government. In other words, the Republican party. The reason it is called “solid” is because this was the moment when a number of party leaders supporting the conservative Republican platform we know today decided to leave the Democratic party.
Debunking More Myths
A lot of people also say that the Southern Realignment has to deal with race. Given America’s history, it is no wonder people would indeed think this. Of course, race needs to be considered, but it is not the cornerstone behind the switch. When thinking about the Republican North versus the Democratic South, the things that separated them aside from slavery was very political in nature, such as ownership of one’s property, taxes, debt, social culture and norms, and the freedoms granted to the South surrounding these issues.
No, instead of thinking purely on race and things like Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” what truly needs to be considered is the pro-immigrant stance of Democrats post-WW2. This would clearly go against the southern view of smaller government, property ownership, and social culture. Then came the migrations during the New Deal era throughout the Great Depression, which hit the South extremely hard. As the government pulled away from the populist ideals that the original Democratic South (pre-Civil War) touted, the void between the voting base deepened.
This is why Presidents like Reagan, Bush, and Trump, who are warriors of populism (American-centered, small government) were able to pull votes even from more conservative Democrats who aren’t keen on “big government” expansions.
Modern Day Proof
When thinking about how the Southern Realignment happened, the saying “history repeats itself” certainly lends a hand in understanding the event. By this, one can simply look to what happened in Charlottesville. The Dixie flag of the Democratic South was being waved by modern day conservatives/Republicans who wanted to protect the statue of General Lee, a famous Southern Democrat rebel leader. On the opposite side of the fence was the “Black Lives Matter” flag, a modern rendition Reformer, Progressive,and Liberal perspective. But again, there was much more happening at Charlottesville than North and South snarling at one another.
The Southern Switch is not a myth. Gradually, over time, as the government gained power and viewpoints began to shift around, platforms affiliated with Democrats and Republicans also shifted. What people fail to realize is that when party leaders began to change, they also brought loyal followers with them. When certain laws were passed that restricted one party while giving another power, people migrated from one party to another. Thus, the polarization of parties has never been perfect, but the North and South continue to have very different opinions about how government should operate.
There is a myth being perpetuated about the so called “Southern Switch”, but it is a myth that it never happened when it clearly did.