“Southern White” as an ethnicity (crossposted from Crooked Timber)

A while ago, I posted about the supposed capture of the ‘white working class’ by Republicans, pointing out that the term was being used to refer to those with less than college education. On more traditional measures of class, such as income, the Democrats do much better, though still getting only about half the vote.

In response to this post a number of commenters pointed out that the data was not disaggregated by region, and that the South was anomalous. A couple of things I’ve seen recently support this. Here’s Charles Blow, reporting that 90 per cent of white voters in Mississippi supported Romney. Kevin Drum observes that Obama won about 46 percent of the white vote outside the South and 27 percent of the white vote in the South. Here’s a bit more from The Monkey Cage.

It strikes me that the best way to understand the distinctive characteristics of US voting patterns is to to treat “Southern White ” as an ethnicity, like Hispanic. With that classification each of the major parties becomes an coalition between a solid bloc vote from an ethnic minority and around half the votes of the “non-Southern white” ethnic majority, which is more likely to vote on class lines. The question then is which ethnic/class coalition is bigger. As in other countries, voting for the more rightwing party is correlated, though not perfectly with higher incomes and (conditional on income) lower education, and to shift according to broader ideological movements.

Is it legitimate to treat Southern Whites as a separate ethnic group? Certainly, plenty of Southerners thought so at the time of the Civil War. Since then, Southern whites have made strong claims to a separate cultural heritage, defined in opposition both to blacks (and also through historic and recent conflicts with Hispanics) and to Northern Whites.

Obviously, this is a matter of self-identification. Not all light-skinned people who live in the South (however defined) would regard themselves as “Southern Whites”, and self-identifying Southerners do not necessary lose their identification by living elsewhere. But it seems likely that voting patterns would be even more strongly predicted by self-ascribed Southernness than by the regional data that’s available.

In political terms, a classification like this would support and extend the “Whistling Past Dixie“. analysis of Thomas Schaller. To the extent that white Southerners vote on ethnic lines, hostile to key Democratic ideas, it makes little sense to try for a class-based message that panders to (for example) Confederate nostalgia. Rather, the best hope is that younger generations will cease identifying with the South and regard themselves just as Americans or even (Utopianism alert) just as human beings.

In the meantime, the demographic trends are favorable. The ethnic population balance is shifting from White Southerners to Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. So, as long as this alignment remains stable and the Democrats continue to gain ground with younger voters in general, the odds shift in their favor.

64 thoughts on ““Southern White” as an ethnicity (crossposted from Crooked Timber)

  1. Fran Barlow:

    “Those who assert that such arrangements are the best of all possible worlds are on the right of politics. They are defenders of the system, regardless of their views on “big” or “small” government, personal liberty, civil society, equal opprtunity or anything else.”

    The mainstream left has believed no such thing since social democracy became the dominant force on the left. Social democratic parties, such as the ALP and Greens in Australia, do *not* seek to replace capitalism (or more properly a mixed economy) with a command economy. All we want to do is equalise the distribution of wealth, power and status. Fran is living in a fantasy world.

    The whole notion that there is a discrete working class with a single, definable objective self-interest and that its destiny is to build a utopia once it throws off the shackles of false consciousness and acts like a colony of deindivualised ants is an absurd nonsense.

  2. Rosey, you are telling porkies again:

    GOP key campaign strategist, Kevin Phillips, 1970.

    “From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.” http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/books/phillips-southern.pdf

    The GOP embraced the Southern Strategy ( recruit redneck Bubba, delist the “Negroes”) during the lifetime of more than half the current electorate.

  3. Kevin Phillips was even eerily accurate about how long the strategy would work. From the same article as above:

    “The Grand Old Party still lay buried under the debris of the latest Democratic landslide-1964- when a young, self-taught ethnologist named Kevin Phillips emerged from his charts and maps to avow to skeptical hearers that just around the corner was an inevitable cycle of Republican dominance that would begin in the late nineteen-sixties and prosper until the advent of the 21st century.

    Wow. That guy is like some evil Nate Silver doppelganger.

  4. @Mel

    The mainstream left has believed no such thing since social democracy became the dominant force on the left.

    That which is called “Social Democracy” today is at its most progressive a form of liberal populism, but as we see, they generally don’t even articulate that often these days. It’s not left at all, but centre-right. They are opposed by the slightly more left Greens — a formation in Australia that can call itself centre-left because quite a few of us see inclusive government and public ownership as important features of a worthy society.

    While it’s not clear where you are on the spectrum, it is clear that you are firmly right-of-centre — perhaps you’d fit into the right of the ALP reasonably comfortably alongside people like Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy.

  5. Fran, in both popular currency and mainstream political science, social democrats are left of centre.

    “… a formation in Australia that can call itself centre-left because quite a few of us see inclusive government and public ownership as important features of a worthy society.”

    False and completely outdated. It doesn’t matter at a philosophical level whether utilities like water, gas and electricity are owned by a private corporation or the state. What matters is that they deliver maximum value at a reasonable cost, don’t screw their workforce and that poorer folk can afford the services. These are the only true concerns of the left.

  6. Fran: “They [the ALP] are opposed by the slightly more left Greens — a formation in Australia that can call itself centre-left because quite a few of us see inclusive government and public ownership as important features of a worthy society.”

    To counter Fran’s misdirection, it should be noted that the Australian Greens agree to be bound by the Four Pillars, those being peace and non-violence, social justice, grassroots participatory democracy and ecological sustainability. The social justice pillar states:

    “The key to social justice is the equitable distribution of social and natural resources to ensure that all people have full opportunities for personal and social development. There can be no social justice without environmental justice, and vice versa.”

    This is very clearly a social democratic vision with a green tinge. None of the other pillars mention public ownership or invoke any type of Marxist class analysis either. Unsurprisingly, many Green party members are actually “capitalists”, being small business operators.

    Here is the Greens’ members booklet. http://greens.org.au/sites/greens.org.au/files/Nat_Member_HBookDL_web_NEW.pdf

  7. @Mel

    Small business owners are “capitalists” only in the sense of being petty bourgeoisie.

    “Petite bourgeoisie (French pronunciation: ?[p?tit bu??wazi]), also called petty bourgeoisie, meaning small bourgeoisie, is a derogatory term to refer to a social class whose traditions and values are derivative from those of bourgeois morality, an upper class to which petite bourgeoisie aspire.

    The term has political, economic, and historical connotations. It originally denoted the middle classes in the 18th and early-19th centuries. Beginning from the middle of the 19th century, the German economist Karl Marx and Marxist theorists applied the term petite bourgeoisie to identify the socio-economic stratum of the bourgeoisie that comprised small-scale capitalists such as shop-keepers and government employees.” – Wikipedia.

    The petty bourgeois nature and light green mentality of the Australian Greens is highly disappointing to any person who wants to see a real alternative to maladaptive capitalism and rampant environmental destruction.

  8. Mel, it must have been a long-term investment by them otherwise dopey republicans? Bubba was a slow train coming.

    The South sent overwhelmingly Democratic party delegations to Congress until 1994.

    Leaving to one side presidential landslides in either direction, the GOP carried the South for the first time in a close election in 2000. Clinton split it with the GOP in 1992 and 1996. Wallace was a spoiler in 1968. 1960 predates the southern strategy. Bush 41 won the south and the most of rest of the country in 1988.

    The democrats did not pay an electoral price for a generation, if that. Too much water under the bridge to connect the two events: 1964 and the 1994 losses.

    The Republican vote increased because of the rise of the middle class in the South.

    Look at the trends in votes. Not the big talk.

    HT: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South

  9. @mel

    I chose my words carefully

    On the question of public ownership:

    The Greens oppose the privatisation of public utilities, services and other essential infrastructure. Public ownership protects the public interest. Privatisation places at risk the environment, employment, services and, in some cases, revenue streams for government.

    Unlike government owned and controlled enterprises, corporations are profit driven and have no interest in supporting unprofitable but socially important services.


    The Greens vision is for a rejuvenation of the public sector. With new leadership and a new sense of mission, public enterprises can become partners with consumers and address the key challenges facing society. Public ownership can maintain quality employment, lead to reductions in energy consumption and foster clean, renewable energy sources.

    The Greens support:

    public funding, ownership and control of public schools, hospitals and transport;
    provision of core government services by government enterprises, not out-sourcing;
    a complete ban on PPPs for essential infrastructure and services including school buildings, roads, transport and prisons;
    public ownership of the NSW electricity industry and water utilities; and
    where possible, a return to public ownership of privatised public services, infrastructure and enterprises.

  10. Fran, that is just one branch of the Greens, the NSW Greens, which is regarded as the most left wing of all the branches. Most branches have pro small business policies that would appeal to the petite bourgeois element mentioned by Ikonoclast. The Vic Greens policy, unless I’ve missed something, doesn’t commit to public ownership. The commitment to public ownership in other branch policies goes no further than what may be found in state ALP branch policies. The fact that idiots like Bligh in Queensland and Keneally in NSW ditched policy without good arguments is another matter.

    I worked in the public service for 20 years and that experience has made me equivocal about worker control. Each case should be assessed on its merits and the ideological warriors on both sides of the argument should be ignored.

  11. @Fran Barlow

    Unfortunately the Aussie Greens have a neoconservative or neoliberal view of the budget and government financing.

    “8. Government finances must be sustainable over the long run; budget deficits and surpluses must balance each other over the business cycle.

    9. Long term government borrowing is the preferred mechanism for funding long term infrastructure investments.” – Greens Economic policy.

    The phrase “sustainable over the long run” is standard neoliberal jargon for restricting government spending even if the economy has spare unutilised capacity (like high unemployment). Unless this vague neolib phrase is re-specified and re-qualified in new detail in a way which differentiates it from standard neoliberal policy then we can have no confidence the Greens actually know anything about macroeconomics that is not out of the neolib playbook. If budget deficits and surpluses literally balance each other over the business cycle then, if the economy is growing even qualitatively if not quantitatively, the money supply will be constricted and strangle the economy. It is clear the Greens are parroting neolib phrases without a clue that neolib macroeconomics in toto is antithetical to everything the Greens want to do. Either that or they are afraid to start a new discourse to free the public from fallacious neoliberal economic doctrine.

    Why should “Long term government borrowing” be “the preferred mechanism for funding long term infrastructure investments”? Why does a government need to borrow in its own currency?
    The assumptions implicit in this policy are pure neoliberal economics. Until the Greens can free themselves from spurious neoliberal economics they can never be a real alternative. Their environmental policies are correct but their macroeconomic vision buys into the entire failed neoliberal economic paradigm.

    Many of their other social and economic policies are excellent but the implicit neoliberal macroeconomic stance is the worm in the bud. None of the other policies can ever come to fruition without reforming their public finances and macroeconomic vision to one of genuine Keynesianism informed by Functional Finance principles.

  12. see http://greens.org.au/policies/sustainable-economy/economics for “sustainable, equitable economic progress is best achieved by government ownership of natural monopolies and new government investment in strategic assets.”

    that seems harmless as does:

    “Small business is the mainstay of the Australian economy, employing five million people, or half of all those in the private sector. The Greens have a strong record in the Senate of supporting small business across a range of issues including anti-competitive pricing and superannuation” and
    “introduce an estate tax with full provisions to protect the family farm, the family home and small business with a threshold of $5 million as indexed from the year 2010.”

    The Greens do not want to upset their millionaire small business donors. No room at the Green Inn for expressive voting on death duties. pure self-interest: tax your richer competitors.

  13. @Ikonoclast

    Unfortunately the Aussie Greens have a neoconservative or neoliberal view of the budget and government financing.

    That’s true, which is why I call the party centre-left.

    Why should “Long term government borrowing” be “the preferred mechanism for funding long term infrastructure investments”? Why does a government need to borrow in its own currency?

    It doesn’t, but it can be a way of spreading the cost of an asset with high capex and likely a long period of benefit over the entire class of intended beneficiaries. The benefits of a large infrastructure project should be shouldered by all of the beneficiaries now and in the future. There’s no particular reason why people in the future shouldn’t carry their fair share of the capex.

  14. Jim Rose, you are simply trolling. Other than when I feel inclined to amuse myself at your expense, I will in future ignore you.

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