The birth of "red America"


In the U.S. political sphere, the colour red is associated with the Grand Old Party (GOP). Today, the Deep South remains a Republican stronghold. It was not always the case...


Democrat Doug Jones's victory in Alabama is widely seen as a political earthquake. For good reasons. No Democrat has represented this "red" state in the Senate for the last 25 years. The thing is, Alabama and the other U.S. Southern States were not always favourable to the GOP. Here is why:


During the Civil War (1861-1865), the young Republican Party, under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, took the lead in the fight against slavery and, in 1863, slavery was abolished. Following the North's victory in 1865, the Republicans further alienated the Deep South by promoting a series of measures aimed at weakening whatever power the region's white elite still held. The U.S. Congress thus voted in favour of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, which guaranteed former slaves and free Blacks the right to vote. The Republican political domination over Washington did only last a few years - the Reconstruction Era - for, eventually, the white majority in the South managed to regain its political footing. Political and judicial equality with African-Americans was simply not acceptable. Racial segregation, the Jim Crow laws, soon became the law of the land.


The exclusion of the Blacks from the electoral process in the 1870s greatly strengthened a conservative and often openly racist Democratic Party. For the next hundred years or so, the Deep South would remain a Democratic stronghold. In 1950, the Republicans had no senators in Congress and only two congressmen. Yet, things started to change in the 1930s with the Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. For, the Democrats became increasingly divided between those representing the conservative South and those, the Northern Democrats, who painted themselves increasingly as the natural protectors of minorities. In 1948, the governor of South Carolina, Strom Thurmond, walked out of the 1948 Democratic Convention to protest the pledge "to eradicate all racial, religion and economic discrimination" proposed by his colleagues from the North. Meanwhile, throughout the 1950s, the Republicans consistently voted in favour of anti-lynching bills and denounced racial discrimination.


The 1960s proved to be the turning point. John Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, together with a growing number of Northern Democrats chose to back the civil rights movement. In the process, they lost the white vote in the South. In 1964, presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, one of eight Republicans who voted against the Civil Rights Act, campaigned heavily on states's rights, which meant for the South, that it would be able to keep segregation. Goldwater's otherwise disastrous campaign got 55% of the white southern vote and carried five states in the Deep South. During the 1968 presidential election, the Republican Party's electoral strategy - the southern strategy - was to focus on increasing support among white voters by adopting a racist stance against African Americans. The political realignment of conservative white voters to the Republican Party happened gradually at the state and local levels in the following twenty years, and, by the early 1990s, the South had become the Republican stronghold it has remained ever since.


This realignment had profound consequences for the GOP. As its electoral centre of gravity shifted to the South, it embraced more conservative social values, became more religious and, as for as foreign policies go, more militaristic and prone to reject multilateralism. Abandoned by white voters in the Deep South, the Democratic Party, on the other hand, shifted further to the left.


The Republican/Democratic divide as we know it was born and the Deep South got painted in red. That is until last Tuesday...

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