Political Animal


June 29, 2012 3:44 PM Partisan Dynamics in the Deep South

By Ed Kilgore

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 is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stevio on June 29, 2012 4:00 PM:

    "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.. "

    Right, and bears don't poop in the woods...

  • c u n d gulag on June 29, 2012 4:03 PM:

    I hope you're right.

    I lived in NC for 9 years, the first 3 1/2 years in Chapel Hill, and saw some hope there - after the first few years of W. There were a lot of hard-core R's who didn't like what they were seeing.

    We little Liberal people in solid-Red Fayetteville, NC, worked hard to get Obama a victory over Hillary - and he and Larry Kissell won in Cumberland Co., which had voted Republican for years.

    Hopefully, there are some good Liberals and Democrats in the grass roots in GA working at turning things around - if nothing else, pissing-off the Conservatives.

  • arkie on June 29, 2012 4:07 PM:

    "Most notable is the fact that the Democratic domination of state and local politics in Georgia lasted longer than in any other southern state;..."

    Actually, it's still going on in Arkansas. Republicans have never controlled the Legislature since Reconstruction. Yes, there have been two Republicans governors - Winthrop Rockefeller and Mike Huckabee but Rockefeller was a "Rockefeller Republican" and Huckabee only became governor because of Ken Starr's bogus prosecution of Governor Jim Guy Tucker (convicted of violating a law that wasn't in effect at the time).

    Having said that, it looks like Republicans will gain control of the Legislature this year thanks to the unpopularity/rabid hatred of Obama in Arkansas. Then we can begin the race to catch up with Mississippi and Alabama in returning to the 19th Century.

  • Rich on June 29, 2012 5:56 PM:

    I lived in GA '98-'06. Even at the beginning of that era, Dems on the statewide tickets had to be quite conservative in order to win. Roy Barnes, the governor for the first half of that period was extremely conservative and basically built a collaboration with the very conservative, elected GOP education commissioner. The GOP also had the insurance commissioner's slot, which was held by the most obvious corporate bought and paid-for character imaginable. The defeat of Max Baucus was a long time in the making. I saw buttons for his opponent over a year before the election. It was a good example of a Dem w/o an apparent ground game.

    Early on, I met a Democratic operative who basically saw the state department as dead, outside of trial attorneys. The realignment of the state mostly occurred as older state legislators died or retired. In other words, the realignment really took place a long time ago and the idea of some new Democratic party base is probably a pipe dream. The more obvious problem with Georgia is the utter corruption of both parties and the poor quality of the political leadership. I have little hope for Georgia, regardless of who runs it. I've lived in machine driven places like Chicago and places riven by racial politics like DC and Cleveland, but I've never had as little hope as I did in Georgia and my friends there have given me no indication that anything has gotten better.

  • howie on June 29, 2012 7:27 PM:

    I fear that the great realignment we are all waiting for may never come to pass.

    It seems that white voters' tribal instinct takes over whenever the demographics seem to favor the Demos and they instinctively start voting GOP in ever greater percentages.

  • Scott on June 30, 2012 7:33 AM:

    Ed, are you kidding me?
    I've lived in Georgia since 1983, and I've never seen it as one-sided as it is now. Republicans hold most every seat of importance, and the ones that Democrats are Blue-Dogs.
    Also, the R's are the really nutty ones like Kingston, Broun, and Price, or evil like Chambliss.
    This state is so red that it almost feels like a waste of time to vote.

  • Lefty on June 30, 2012 9:01 AM:

    I agree with Scott. I live in the northern suburbs of Atlanta and to be anything but a teaparty Republican is considered treasonous. I thought about becoming active in the Democratic Party and went to a meeting. I sat a table with the head of the county democratic party and asked him who was going to challenge Tom Price. He told me that no one was but that Price was a nice guy. I got up and left and never considered it again.

  • CharlieM on July 01, 2012 9:16 AM:

    A viable two party system is "just around the corner" in GA?

    You need to cut back on your recreational smoking Ed. It's really beginning to affect your judgement.

  • factchecker on August 02, 2012 8:43 PM:

    Ed is a bit misinformed a bit okay well a lot, but he has a bit of a point that is not so true anymore, in the past
    a more centrist democrat could have won if voters felt like electing him on the grounds that folks voted democrat
    for instant the black attorney general of georgia, who may have not been too centrist, but even still, however blue dogs such as zell miller, wonder where he is now, were common, the only difference in atlanta is changing demographics, however there is a lag time between how that influences the election as they don't vote in huge numbers, also the rest of the population matters too,
    sure atlanta and its suburbs may have folks but not only balance the rest of the gop suburbs but the state,
    north carolina has two major cities growing, so it helped a bit but even still it barely went dem, this time it may not go dem, virginia had a bit of advantage with the northern virginia area, population exploded,
    and they have other cities in virginia, and the population moving there were many young liberal democrats and minorities, by contrast many folks moving to nc and ga may be swing, but they may be older, retired, or minorities who vote less, a dc liberal
    may have a nva counterpart, but in nc and ga that is less so , sure they have students in chapel hill but even still, virginia of course the northern part its like a tri state area in a way except dc, nc has charlotte but sc on the border is not that explosion
    of growth in comparison to swing a lot.

    In any case the two party dynamic centric was not really there, is not going to be there soon.

  • civarifsciz on January 17, 2013 9:37 AM:

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as significantly as this 1. I mean, I know it was my option to read, but I actually thought youd have something intriguing to say. All I hear is usually a bunch of whining about some thing which you could fix should you werent too busy searching for attention.

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