"We have just lost the South for a generation." ~Lyndon Johnson, after signing the Civil Rights act. (Who would have thought he was actually being optimistic?!)
Historians sometimes break our political history down into 5 or 6 major chapters. The ‘first party system’ usually ends with the collapse of the Federalist Party. The ‘second party system’ ends with the collapse of the National-Republicans, and the change of the Democratic - Republican Party to the Democratic Party. The third system usually ends with the collapse of the Whigs. The fourth system is marked by the civil war, and the rise of the Republicans to National Prominence and a period of decline for the Democrats. After that it gets a little blurry. The ‘fifth party system’ usually starts with FDR and the New Deal and the Democrats return to prominence, and if so, the 6th party system started with the passing of Civil Rights, and the geographic shifts that ensued. Some may say that we are entering a 7th party system, I don’t really know, and only history will tell.
Personally I don’t care much about the collapse of the Federalists, National-Republicans or Whigs. I just see those events as one Conservative Party after another being torn apart by some of its members wanting to adapt and become more progressive while the rest insist on party purity and steadfastly cling to the old ways, alienating the progressives and dividing the moderates. Three times now this has led to the dissolution of the conservative party, followed by the eventual abandonment (or redefinition) of “the old ways.” This is inevitable because the world keeps moving on, with our without the Conservative’s consent. And we may finally be seeing History repeat itself yet again, as the Tea-Baggers tear the Republican party asunder like a pack of rabid, starving cannibals. But whatever. I don’t see the cyclic demise of each successive party of luddites to be anything particularly profound. The way I see it, there have been only two real game-changers in American Presidential politics, and the both largely involve RACE: The Civil War and Civil Rights. Here’s my ‘Cliff’s Notes’ version of American Presidential History that explains why.
The Federalists (F) started out well enough. George Washington twice ran unopposed and was probably the most popular President in American History. He warned against the formation of actual parties, but perhaps was being too optimistic regarding human nature. His Vice-President, John Adams (F), then carried the flag, but Adams, as great a founding father as he was, was no Washington when it came to the Presidency. He lost his bid for re-election and the Democratic-Republicans (henceforth referred to as just ‘Democrats’ or (D)) came into Prominence. Thomas Jefferson (D) won two terms, James Madison (D) won two terms and James Monroe (D) won two terms. (In the modern vernacular, the Score is now D-6, F-3.) In Monroe’s bid for reelection, he ran unopposed, as the Federalist party had by now utterly collapsed.
From their ashes came the National-Republicans, led by John Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams(NR). Now… technically he LOST the 3-way race for the next Presidency. Andrew Jackson (D) not only had more popular votes, but more ELECTORAL votes as well! But as he didn’t have a majority, so he was not declared the winner. Henry Clay then basically GAVE all of his votes to Adams (NR) in what has become known as the “corrupt bargain” and Adams won. It wouldn’t last however. As a President, Quincy Adams (NR) was not well liked, and he’d be the only National Republican to hold office. Jackson (D) went on to win twice, and his VP, Martin Van Buren (D) also won. Dem’s now lead 9 to 4.
Unfortunately, Van Buren’s Presidency was awful. And from the ashes of the now defunct National-Republican party came the Whigs. William Henry Harrison (W) beat Van Buren (D) but died three weeks after taking office. His term was served out by John Tyler (W). But Tyler was so bad, the Whigs wouldn’t let him run again. So James Polk (D) won a term, then retired and dies himself a month after his term ended. With no one ready to replace him, the Democrats lost to Zachary Taylor (W) who ALSO died in office (what’s with these sickly Whig Presidents?) and had his term finished out by Millard Fillmore. HE was so awful the Whig’s didn’t let HIM run again (What’s with these unpopular Whig VICE Presidents?) but lacking a suitable candidate, they went on to lose twice more, once to Franklin Pierce (D) and then to James Buchanan (D) and fell apart as a party.
At this point the Dem’s lead in election victories by a score of 12 to 6. Not only have there been two Democratic victories for every loss, but they’ve outlasted three separate opposition parties! Unfortunately Pierce (D) and Buchanan (D) were SO BAD that it was under their watchful eyes that the country begin to tear itself apart, and the groundwork was laid for the Civil War. Now… the reason this was such a game-changer was that the Democrats were more prominent in the South, while the newly formed Republicans, lead by Abraham Lincoln (R), and having grown from the ashes of the Federalists, National-Republicans and now Whigs, were more prominent in the North… who, of course, won the war. This was a game changer for our national politics BIG TIME. For the next half century or so the Republicans were all but untouchable: Lincoln (R) won two terms, Ulysses Grant (R) won two term, then Rutherford Hayes (R) followed by James Garfield (R), who was assassinated and had Arthur (R) finish his term. Grover Cleveland (D) managed to finally win a term for the Democrats, then lost to Benjamin Harrison (R), but then won a send term. MicKinley (R) then won two terms followed by Teddy Roosevelt (R) who finished MicKinley’s second term after he was assassinated, and won re-election in his own right. He was followed by his protégé and Vice President, William Taft (R). THAT was the political fallout after the Civil War: After leading 12 to 6 before the war, the Democrats trail 11 to 2 after it!
Woodrow Wilson (D) finally managed to win two consecutive terms, and was the first Democrat since Andrew Jackson to do so! But as I pointed out a couple of posts back, his first election was a bit of a fluke. He was then followed by Warren Harding (R), Calvin Coolidge (R) and Herbert Hoover (R). So for the ~90 years following the Civil War, the Republicans won the Presidency FOURTEEN TIMES to the Democrats’ four.
The great depression, however, broke the Republican’s winning streak: Four victories for Franklin Roosevelt (D), followed by one for Truman (D), two for Dwight Eisenhower (R), then one each for John Kennedy (D) and Lyndon Johnson (D). That’s an 8 to 2 run for the Democrats, but I actually don’t see the Great Depression or even the Second World War as a real game-changer. Some bad luck and one lousy president (Hoover) followed by the successes of Roosevelt and Truman did put the Democrats back on the map, but the main reason I don’t consider this much of a game changer in that from 1876 to 1964, the Republicans still dominated the in the North and the Democrats still Dominate in the south. The regional trends remained largely intact and do not start to shift in earnest until the 1960’s. The shifts actually start in 1960, and were fully visible by 1968, so I’m going to use 1964 as the dividing line. Because since 1964, the regional shift have been pronounced.
First, the Northeast and Southwest have practically flip-flopped. From 1860 to 1960, the Northeast (defined here as: Connecticut, Delaware, The District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont) voted Republican 69% of the time. Take out FDR’s four national landslides and that number grows to 77%. Take out the 1912 election, and the split Republican ballot, and it grows to 79% of the time. From 1964 through to today, these same states have voted Republican only 33% of the time. Take out Reagan’s ’84 landslide and Nixon’s ’72 landslide ad that number drops to just 23%. And, to be fair, if you than also then take out Johnson’s ’64 landslide, the number goes back up to 25%. So in elections that were actually competitively contested, the region went from going 79% Republican to 75% Democratic.
The Southeast saw the opposite trend. From 1860 to 1960, the Southeast (defined here as: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North , Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia) went to the (or “a”) Democratic Candidate 81% on the time. Even removing FDR’s four landslides, in which he won EVERY STATE in the region, FOUR YEARS IN A ROW, the Democrat STILL wins 77% of the time. Take out Wilson in ’12 and the States still go Democratic 76% of the time. From 1964 until today however, these states have gone to Democrats only 24% of the time. And other than Obama, who pulled out Flordia, North Carolina and Virginia, the ONLY Democrats to win any of these States in this period were Southerner themselves: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton! Take out Johnson’s ’64 National Landslide and that number drops to 21%. Take out Reagan’84 and Nixon ’72, (both of whom won every state) and you’re back up to 25%. So a Region that had gone Democratic 69% of the time in competitive elections drops to just 25%. Or from 76% for the Democrats, to 75% against. (I can’t say “Republican” due to Independent Wallace getting some states in ’68, but they still went against the Democrats all the same, and clearly over civil rights when you’ve got George Wallace winning.) It really striking when you look at a state like Alabama: From 1876 to 1960 the only time a Democrat didn’t with was in 1948, when it went to “Dixiecrat” Strom Thurmond. Since 1964 the only Democrat to win was Carter in ’76. Johnson lost it in ’64, despite winning a National Landslide, and despite the Democrats’ near 100 year dominance of the state, and other than ’76 (and ’68 when it was carried by George Wallace) it’s gone Republican every year.
The Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio &Wisconsin) had been a Republican mainstay, going Democratic just 27% of the time from 1860 to 1960, and just 15% if you take out FDR and Wilson’12. Since 1964, it’s been the definitive battleground region, split exactly 50/50. (Although is 54% Democratic if you take out Reagan’84, Nixon’72 and Johnson’64) About the only two states in the region that have had any dominance by either party are Minnesota, which only went Republican with Nixon in ’72, and was the only STATE not carried by Reagan in ’84; and Indiana, which until Obama last year had not been won by a Democrat since Johnson in ’64.
The Mountain States (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah & Wyoming) had always been Republican strongholds, and have largely remained that way or, if anything, have gotten more so: They went 39% Democratic from 1860 to 1960, and just 17% if you take out FDR and Wilson’12. Since 1964, they gone Democratic just 18% of the time, 9% when you ignore Reagan’84, Nixon’72 and Johnson ’64.
The Pacific states underwent a shift, but it was later, and it really excludes Alaska, which votes more like a Mountain state: Republican every year, except for Johnson in ’64. But looking at just California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, they’ve gone to the Democrats 100% since 1992. Prior to that, they went Democrat just 28% of the time from 1964 to 1988, and going back to 1860, these states went Democratic just 30% of the time, 17% if your exclude FDR and Wilson’12. The one thing the may have had keeping them Republican after 1964, despite being more liberal that their Mountain neighbors, may have been the four candidacies by former California Governors Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. It’s also reasonable to assume that they were farther removed from the civil rights issues, and thus in and of itself this was not a factor in their ideological drift.
So there you go: Racial issues flipped the COUNTRY from being predominantly Democratic to predominantly Republican, following the Civil War and shifted or reversed key regional voting patterns following the passing of Civil Right legislation.
To further illustrate the point, the following charts show the political leangings of each region, as I've deifned them. The % reported on the chart is the % of States in the region that went to the (or 'a') Democratic candidate in the time period defined. Red for Republican, Blue for Democrat.
Here's what the country looks like, pre-civil war:
From 1860 to 1960 the Republican's dominated every region except the Southeast. Following the Civil Right Era however, it looks like this:
Northeast and Southest flip, Pacific moves to the left, and the Midwest essentially determines the winner. (Minnesota and Indiana are the only states in the region that consistenlty support one party or the other.)
And if you
Anyway, I hope you