Political Behavior

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 131–155 | Cite as

Class, Race Issues, and Declining White Support for the Democratic Party in the South

  • Mark D. Brewer
  • Jeffrey M. Stonecash


The Democratic Party in the South has experienced a major loss of white voters in recent decades. Two major hypotheses have been proposed to explain this change. The dominant explanation in recent years has been that race issues have driven whites from the Democratic Party in the South. In this view, defections from the Democratic Party have occurred because whites oppose the party's positions on race issues. In contrast, others have suggested that class divisions have emerged as important, with affluent whites increasingly supportive of the Republican Party because they find its positions more compatible with their interests. Using NES data, this article assesses the evidence for these hypotheses, examining the impact of income position and race issues on partisan behavior since 1952. While both factors affect partisan support, income has come to have a relatively greater effect on partisan support than race issues. The evidence clearly indicates that class divisions in the South have steadily increased and that affluent whites have steadily shifted to the Republican Party. The implications are significant for understanding the dramatic changes in the South in recent decades. Much has been made of the tensions over race issues, and the findings presented here lend further support to the importance of race issues in southern electoral politics. However, these findings also suggest that class divisions are a steadily increasing source of political cleavage in this region. The current state of electoral politics in the South cannot be properly understood unless both of these factors are taken into account.

class divisions southern politics 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark D. Brewer
    • 1
  • Jeffrey M. Stonecash
    • 2
  1. 1.Colby CollegeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political Science, Maxwell SchoolSyracuse UniversitySyracuse

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