On Monday, Kanye West tweeted that the Democrats had been the party of slavery; he soon tweeted out a text conversation with John Legend in which Legend claimed that the Democratic and Republican Parties had switched in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, Legend is dead wrong. The data simply doesn’t back him up.
First, according to Professors Richard Johnston of the University of Pennsylvania and Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin, “the shift in the South from Democratic to Republican was overwhelmingly a question not of race but of economic growth.” The movement toward Republicanism in the south began in the 1950s as the south industrialized. Working-class whites and blacks remained Democrat until the 1990s. Here’s The New York Times reporting:
To give just one example: in the 50s, among Southerners in the low-income tercile, 43 percent voted for Republican Presidential candidates, while in the high-income tercile, 53 percent voted Republican; by the 80s, those figures were 51 percent and 77 percent, respectively. Wealthy Southerners shifted rightward in droves but poorer ones didn’t.
Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics agrees: he says that the GOP gradually increased its support in the south from 1928 to 2010. As Dan McLaughlin summarizes, “As late as 2010, there were still states like Alabama and North Carolina that were voting in their first Republican legislative majorities since Reconstruction — something that would have happened overnight in the late 60s if the partisan realignment had been driven by lockstep white voting loyalties on racial lines.”
Second, it was southern Democrats fighting against the Civil Rights movement for the most part. In 1948 and 1968, insurgent Democrats launched anti-civil rights presidential campaigns. Civil rights bills required more Republican than Democratic support.
Finally, the myth of the southern strategy also suggests that today’s southerners vote for Republicans because they’re more racist than northerners. There’s no evidence to that effect, either. According to Gallup, “Southern Americans’ ratings of race relations are currently about average when compared with those in other parts of the country.” The most segregated areas of the south are in major metropolitan areas — which tend to vote more heavily Democratic than their surrounding areas.
So don’t believe the hype, Kanye. The racist Democrats who propelled Democrats to victory remained Democrats.