Partisan Dynamics in the Deep South

Since they are profiling my home state of Georgia today, I guess it’s as good a time as any to note FiveThirtyEight’s “Presidential Geography” series by Micah Cohen, which will eventually produce political snapshots of all 50 states.

These are excellent quick research tools, with all the basic election and demographic info, along with substate trend analysis supplemented by conversations with local experts. I certainly agree with Cohen’s basic take on the Empire State of the South as representing a bit of a cross between its Deep South and “New South” neighbors, with Democratic hopes resting on a steadily increasing minority population (not just African-Americans, but increasingly Hispanics, and in Atlanta, all sorts of folk from around the world) and the expectation that white professionals will eventually outweigh non-college educated people and put a halt to the GOP trend among white voters.

As Cohen notes, the slippage of the Democratic vote among white voters in Georgia has been far greater than in Virginia and North Carolina. My fear is that it’s an example of how the racial polarization of the parties can become self-reinforcing, as it already has in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina (with Tennessee and Louisiana beginning to head in that same direction). My hope is that there are extenuating circumstances in Georgia that explain and limit the pro-GOP trend of white voters. Most notable is the fact that the Democratic domination of state and local politics in Georgia lasted longer than in any other southern state; Georgia didn’t elect its first post-Reconstruction Republican governor until 2002. So the good-ol-boy courthouse party in most of Georgia was Democratic until very recently, and citizens are just now beginning to get a regular taste of GOP misgovernment (viz. ongoing state and local ethics scandals) and ideological divisions (the nasty fight under way over July 31’s regional transportation sales tax referendum).

In any event, even if it’s at best a long-shot for Democrats in 2012, ongoing trends suggest Georgia is not out of reach for the Donkey Party perpetually. And that’s a source of abiding hope for long-suffering yellow dogs, as is the fact that the Republican wave has left a Democratic Party far less populated with pols who are quite literally (not just in the eyes of intra-party rivals) Democratic-in-Name-Only. A lot of dogcatchers have defected recently who would call themselves whatever it required to keep themselves in office. Some have even risen to much higher office (i.e., the present governor and his immediate predecessor). But in Georgia, at least, the Great Realignment is probably over, and a truly competitive, demographically and ideologically representative, two-party system is just around the corner.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.