SHAPIRO: Debunking The Southern Switch

One of the favorite refrains of the Democratic Party — attempting to escape its own history of racism and slavery and segregation — is that in the 1960s, the Republican Party hijacked racism, and the Democratic Party abandoned it.

That is not true, and I will tell you why.

Setting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as the turning point, Democrats point out that the formerly solid Democratic South moved gradually into the Republican camp, while the Republican North turned more Democratic over time. This, they say, was clearly the result of racism coming to the fore in the GOP.

There’s not much evidence to support this contention. According to professors Richard Johnston of the University of Pennsylvania and Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin, “The shift in the South from Democratic to Republican was overwhelmingly a question not of race, but of economic growth.”

The movement toward Republicanism in the South began in the 1950s as the South industrialized. Working class whites and blacks remained Democrat until the 1990s. The New York Times reported in the 50s that among southerners in the low income tercile — that’s the lowest 10% — 43% voted for Republican presidential candidates, while in the highest income tercile, 53% voted Republican. By the 1980s, those figures were 51% and 77%, respectively. 

Wealthy southerners shifted rightward in droves. Poor ones did not.

Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics agrees; he says that the GOP gradually increased its support in the South from 1928 to 2010. As Dan McLaughlin of National Review summarizes, “As late as 2010, there were still states like Alabama and North Carolina that were voting in their first Republican legislative majorities since Reconstruction” — something that would have happened overnight in the late 60s if the partisan realignment had been driven by lock-step white voting loyalties on racial lines. 

It was Southern Democrats fighting against the civil rights movement for the most part. 

In 1948 and 1968, insurgent Democrats launched anti-civil rights presidential campaigns. Civil rights bills required more Republican than Democratic support by percentage. In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was passed 119 to 56. Every single Republican voted to pass the bill; only fourteen Democrats voted in favor. About 100 years later, 81% of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964; only 66% of Democrats voted in favor. 

Historically, of course, the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln, and the Democratic Party was the party of slavery. The Democratic Party was rooted in the agricultural South, and it was the Republican Party that was far more cosmopolitan and racially tolerant. It was the Democratic Party that pushed segregation; it was the Democratic Party that pushed Jim Crow. The KKK was basically the armed wing of the Democratic Party in the South for decades. 

Looking at the roots of the Republican Party, of course, what you see is that the Republican Party repeatedly attempted to end things like Jim Crow. It was Dwight Eisenhower who was attempting to forcibly integrate the schools. It was Ulysses S. Grant who was attempting to push for Radical Republican reconstructionism. 

The notion that the Republican Party simply switched overnight on civil rights belies all evidence. The real change that happened here was not inside the Republican Party. The real change that happened here was inside the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has become significantly less racist over time, but the Democratic Party becoming less racist over time does not imply that the Republican Party has become more racist over time. 

This piece is adapted from an episode of Ben’s newest series, Debunked. Become a Daily Wire Insider to watch the full episode now!

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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