Political Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 2, June 2001 (2001)
CLASS, RACE ISSUES, AND DECLINING
WHITE SUPPORT FOR THE DEMOCRATIC
PARTY IN THE SOUTH
Mark D. Brewer and JeffreyM. Stonecash
The Democratic Party in the South has experienced a major loss of white voters in
recent decades. Two major hypotheses have been proposed to explain this change.
The dominant explanation in recent years has been that race issues have driven whites
from the Democratic Party in the South. In this view, defections from the Democratic
Party have occurred because whites oppose the party’s positions on race issues. In
contrast, others have suggested that class divisions have emerged as important, with
affluent whites increasingly supportive of the Republican Party because they find its
positions more compatible with their interests. Using NES data, this article assesses
the evidence for these hypotheses, examining the impact of income position and race
issues on partisan behavior since 1952. While both factors affect partisan support,
income has come to have a relatively greater effect on partisan support than race
issues. The evidence clearly indicates that class divisions in the South have steadily
increased and that affluent whites have steadily shifted to the Republican Party. The
implications are significant for understanding the dramatic changes in the South in
recent decades. Much has been made of the tensions over race issues, and the findings
presented here lend further support to the importance of race issues in southern elec-
toral politics. However, these findings also suggest that class divisions are a steadily
increasing source of political cleavage in this region. The current state of electoral
politics in the South cannot be properly understood unless both of these factors are
taken into account.
Key words: class divisions; southern politics.
EXPLAINING CHANGE IN THE SOUTH: CONTRASTING VIEWS
Since the 1950s there is no doubt that the Democratic Party in the South
has experienced a remarkable decline in support among whites. The cause of
this decline is less clear. Two primary explanations of this change have been
Mark D. Brewer, Colby College; Jeffrey M. Stonecash, Department of Political Science, Max-
well School, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
0190-9320/01/0600-0131/0 2001 Plenum Publishing Corporation