Political Demography of the South

While we’re on the subject of Georgia politics, it’s probably a good time for a quick refresher course on why that state is becoming more hospitable once again to statewide Democratic candidates even as most of the rest of the Deep South continues to trend (or at least stay) heavily Republican. Nate Cohn of The Upshot has a useful analysis today of the relative numbers of non-southern migrants into various states of the Former Confederacy, and it explains a lot. Here’s an especially interesting nugget:

There are four times as many Northeastern expats in Florida as there are in Texas; there are more Northeastern expats in Virginia and North Carolina than in Texas; and there are nearly as many Northeastern expats in Georgia, at 816,729, as there are in Texas, at 929,692.

To make a long story short, Democratic prospects in the South depend on a combination of a strong and growing nonwhite voting base and a higher “floor” on white Democratic votes attributable in part to non-southern migrants. This is why Democrats have made a strong comeback in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, and are doing better in Georgia. States like Tennessee and Arkansas have significant in-migration of non-southern whites, which is one reason the white Democratic vote hasn’t collapsed as much as in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana. But the nonwhite percentage of the electorate isn’t high enough to get Democrats close to a majority.

If you look at Cohn’s charts, the state you have to wonder about is South Carolina, whose demographics aren’t that different from Georgia’s. It may be that the Yankee migrants there, living in all those golf-and-beach centered communities along the Atlantic coast, are simply more conservative than in other states. I just don’t know. But if I were a fundraiser for, say, South Carolina Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen, I’d pass along Cohn’s analysis, with as much spin as I could add, to potential major donors.

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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.