The Loss Of The White Vote
While many on the left have dismissed the decision of nearly 30 Democrats in the state to switch parties over the past two years as no big loss, it has been consistent with one major trend that will be the (eventual) undoing of Democratic influence and power: the loss of rural, white elected officials and rural, white voters.
In November, Travis Childers’ winning coalition of rural whites and blacks fell to pieces as Alan Nunnelee won in a route; winning every county without significant black population (save for Childers’ home county of Prentiss). But the truth was Childers’ victory in 2008 was more unusual than Nunnelee’s win in 2010; and looks like it will go down as simply a blimp on the radar in future books written about the GOP’s rise in the Magnolia State.
Let’s go back even further- to 1976. African-Americans, with full voting rights, joined with rural, whites to form a winning coalition for a Southern Baptist from Georgia named Jimmy Carter. Four years later that was coalition had been broken and Ronald Reagan would begin the current streak of eight straight presidential elections in which the state’s electoral votes went Republican. Today, the Democratic presidential candidate generally wins 90-95% of the black vote while the Republican enjoys 85-90% of the white vote on average.
Republicans don’t win the white vote in numbers like that on the state level, but it’s moving in that direction. Even after the state solidified its Republican shift in federal elections (Thad Cochran in 1978, Reagan in 1980 and 84), Democrats still swept statewide offices. In fact, that black/ rural, white coalition gave support for two of the more liberal governors the state has seen: William Winter and Ray Mabus. By 1991, that coalition broke for the state’s top job with the election of Kirk Fordice. Ronnie Musgrove and the 1999 elections in general gave Democrats hope that the Republican emergence was just a fad.
Obviously, it wasn’t. And even before the 2003 elections Republicans picked up a statewide office with the switch of Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck. Haley Barbour stormed into town in 2003 and four years later Republicans would win seven of the eight statewide offices.
The Republican rise can be attributed to the Democrats loss of rural, white voters- generally conservative. There is no way around that fact. There is simply no significant pocket of white liberals who could join with blacks to create a Democratic majority. And as the RWDs shrink within the Democratic Party, the influence of the Black Caucus rises. Recently, the LBC became a majority in the House Democratic caucus for the first time in history. That is why understanding the number of RWDs vs. LBC members is significant. What that means is that you get a more liberal face on the Democratic Party, and the cycle of driving conservatives away continues and it usually accelerates.
This white flight if you will from the Democratic Party is not something limited to Mississippi. Extensive exit polling data from the 2010 midterms revealed that for the first time ever a full 60 percent of whites supported Republicans nationally. We are starting to see very sharp ideological differences among races not just in Mississippi but nationally. Blacks, and other minorities, have generally been liberal in their stances on government issues for some time but whites are becoming more uniformly conservative.
On the role of government, the new healthcare law, and the performance of the president whites and minorities gave essentially the opposite response on each question. That is why we are seeing whites flee to the Republican Party in Mississippi. It is simply aligned with their ideology.
Detractors will say some racial motive is going on. In Georgia, where the Democratic Party has gone from mighty to non-existent in just 10 years, state Sen. Robert Brown of Macon told a newscaster that the recent string of party switchers in the Peach State used “white sheets” for their “midnight meetings.” Anyone want to guess on how many whites heard that and decided the Democratic Party was the place for them?
Or how about the likes of Jackson councilman Kenneth Stokes who recently said in a Clarion-Ledger interview that, “When a black man became mayor, the respect that the city of Jackson received seemed to disappear.”
Comments from Brown or Stokes (and I’m sure there are others) may play well to their base. And I suppose you could argue that’s who you’re elected to represent. But they have implications beyond their district. And we see that each time the Mississippi Republican Party has a press conference announcing the latest party-switcher.