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In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democrat to win Virginia since 1964. The Commonwealth’s evolution from red state to purple state was influenced by powerful historic forces: in-migration, economic growth, and shifting power dynamics within both parties. Kojo talks with political scientist Quentin Kidd about the evolution of partisanship in the South.
- Quentin Kidd Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Government, Christopher Newport University; Co-author of “The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth and the Partisan Transformation of the American South” (Oxford University Press)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's a story of a blue state, turned red state, turned purple state. When Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the fallout was swift across the American South. White conservative voters, the backbone of the southern Democratic Party, began switching allegiances to the Republican Party and the South became a cornerstone of Republican power.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOver the course of the next presidential elections, no Democratic candidate would win the Commonwealth of Virginia, for instance. It was a transformation that would reshape national politics. But below the national radar, a different transformation was taking place within the Democratic Party.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBlack voters were seizing the reins of party power along with new communities of immigrants and northerners, laying the foundation for the new purple complexion of states like Virginia. In his new book "The Rational Southerner," Quentin Kidd explores the evolving southern political identity.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIQuentin Kidd joins us in studio. He is a professor of political science and Chair of the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University. He is co-author of "The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth and the Partisan Transformation of the American South." Quentin Kidd, good to have you in studio, thanks for joining us.
MR. QUENTIN KIDDIt's good to be with you. I would give a shout-out to my co-authors M.V. Hood and Irwin Morris, University of Georgia, University of Maryland as well.
NNAMDIIndeed, the book is co-authored by the two other individuals. If you'd like to join this conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIWhy do you think states like Virginia and North Carolina have become swing states? 800-433-8850, Quentin, Barack Obama's strong showing in the American South in 2008 caught a lot of people off guard. He became the first Democrat to win Virginia since LBJ, only the second Democrat to win North Carolina in that time period.
NNAMDIAnd he managed to put up impressive numbers in states like Georgia. This result seemed to fly in the face of conventional wisdom about the South's political leanings. But in this book, you argue pretty forcefully that this was a long time coming. Is it possible to understand today's purple states like Virginia without understanding why they became red states in the first place?
KIDDWell, no, I think you have to understand the history, the last 50 years or so and the transformation of the South. You know, a little over a half century ago, the South was solidly Democratic and it was the conservative white segregationist Democratic Party that controlled the South.
KIDDAnd from that point to present, we've seen a, you know, a complete transformation of the South. It's largely a solidly-Republican state with a lot of competitive spots in it where there's a strong, you know, a resurgence of Democratic politics.
KIDDAnd the oddity of that is that what once were those white conservatives that controlled the solid Democratic South now controlled the Republican Party in many states and they've gone from leaving the Democratic Party to wandering around for some years, being independents like Mills Godwin did in Virginia and then transitioning nearly completely to the Republican Party.
KIDDAnd in the middle of that was the Civil Rights Act that removed legal barriers to African-American electoral participation and the African-American electorate moved not immediately, but pretty quickly into the Democratic Party and over time, made the Democratic Party what it is today in many parts of the South, a very strong vibrant party, one in Virginia, for example, that challenges the Republicans for control year in and year out right now.
NNAMDIThe story of the South's political transformation is deeply intertwined with the story of race relations. It's commonly said that the Democrats lost the South because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that this legislation caused conservative Whites to flee the party. What actually happened?
KIDDWell, what we argue is that it is about race, but it isn't a kneejerk reaction to race. It isn't that people were fleeing to one party or the other simply because of their racial preferences, that white conservatives and African-Americans moved to their respective parties because they were making a decision about which party could produce the electoral benefits that they were interested in.
KIDDSo conservative Whites left the Democratic Party and moved to this Republican Party that really in the South, in many places, didn't exist except in a shell because they saw the opportunity to acquire political power through this party without having to compete with African-Americans who post-Civil Rights Act, looked like they were going into the Democratic Party.
KIDDSo, you know, white conservatives had this choice, stay in the same party we were in and compete with African-Americans, who they had worked so hard to keep out of politics, or leave the Democratic Party and go to the Republican Party and re-create their power base.
KIDDAnd African-Americans had a similar choice to make. I mean, we can use Virginia as a case study. In the 1965 governor's race for Virginia, African-Americans supported Mills Godwin. This was the governor. This was a person who had led massive resistance. Now why?
KIDDThe Crusade for Voters, which was a very strong active organization in Richmond, was led by a man named Dr. William Thornton and he was on record saying we supported Mills Godwin because we hoped that he would see that we had supported him and would, you know, do something for us.
KIDDMills Godwin didn't do something for them and so the very next gubernatorial election, they shifted and voted in mass for Linwood Holton, the Republican candidate. So they were acting, you know, in some ways, they were searching for the place, a home that would provide them with the electoral benefits, the rewards of politics and that's really what this is all about.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, are you from Virginia? Do you have any recollection of what Quentin Kidd was just talking about? If you've lived in the South or studied politics in the South, do you think the region is stereotyped unfairly? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIQuentin, could I ask that last question of our listeners because we tend to think of racism as a sort of irrational emotional impulse? If you accurately and rationally recognize that you're competing with a new demographic for policy space, for influence within a party, is it fair to call that racism?
KIDDNo. Well, I mean, there could be racial -- certainly could be racial elements. There are racial undertones. I mean, that's just part of our culture, part of our history. But I think when it comes to politics and when it comes to where people are going to align, where they're going to alight politically, what people are after are rational benefits.
KIDDYou know, politics is a game of the allocation of resources, right? There's a finite amount of resources. There's a finite amount of policy space. There's a finite amount of, you know, budgets that can be allocated. And so you align with the party, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party because that party is going to advocate on your behalf for whatever policy space you're after.
KIDDSo for African-Americans, they're after job protection. They're after some social benefits right, post-civil rights. Conservative Whites are attempting to keep government, especially the federal government, keep the federal government at bay, keep the federal government from encroaching upon their states, right?
KIDDAnd so it made sense if your political perspective was an anti-federal government perspective that you would wander, you would find yourself over in the Republican Party. And if you were after social benefits, if you were after job protection, that you would find yourself in the Democratic Party, the party that would advocate for these sort of things.
KIDDAnd so that's really what's driving the movement of African-Americans into the Democratic Party and white conservatives into the Republican Party.
NNAMDISo you seem to be saying two things. On the one hand, conservative Whites may have had racist views, but that does not necessarily explain why they view their interests as being in tension with the black voters. At the same time you're saying that, and in this book you certainly explore the other side of this coin, that the vacuum left by white conservatives within the Democratic Party was very quickly filled by others who had previously been marginalized. Is this in part a story of black empowerment?
KIDDWell, it is a story of black empowerment. I mean, in fact, we explore how it is that black political mobilization happened, right? If African-Americans find a home in a party, that's going to advocate for their policy goals, advocate for them, on their behalf for government programs and policies then as they succeed, success begets success, right?
KIDDSo as they start succeeding, others view their success and join their party and join their cause. And so there was a very rapid movement into the Democratic Party on the part of African-Americans. There was a much slower movement away from the Democratic Party toward the Republican Party on the part of Republicans -- or on the part of conservative Whites, I'm sorry.
KIDDSo it took nearly a decade for conservative Whites to fully leave the Democratic Party and wander over to the Republican Party and even in some states, longer than that. But it was really quick for the African-Americans to move to the Democratic Party.
KIDDBy the early 1970s, it was clear where African-American voters were, as late as 1969, it wasn't. In Virginia, African-Americans overwhelmingly voted for the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Linwood Holton.
NNAMDIAnd I remember that in 1968, a lot of African-Americans voted for Richard Nixon for president, even though Nixon is credited or blamed, depending on who you're talking to, for putting in place what he called a Southern strategy. What effect did that have on this movement?
KIDDIn fact, it goes further back. In the late 1950s, early 1960s, African-Americans in the South were supportive of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon as his vice president because Dwight Eisenhower talked about civil rights, talked about the need for civil rights, talked about issues that were important to African-American voters, African-Americans in the South, many of whom couldn't vote, some who could vote.
KIDDAnd it wasn't until -- it wasn't until Barry Goldwater's candidacy in the Republican Party when Barry Goldwater realized we're not going to put together a coalition as conservative Republicans. We're not going to put together a coalition of moderate Whites and African-Americans. It's not going to work.
KIDDRichard Nixon tried it. It didn't work. So Goldwater was very famous for making that statement, you go hunting where the ducks are. And what he meant was in the South, you push a conservative line, a state's right line because that's where this group of conservative, white, former Democrats who really aren't comfortable with the Democratic Party are, and we can pull them over if we push that conservative anti-federal government line.
KIDDAnd so that shift begins much earlier than, you know, in some ways, you can see the roots of it much earlier than 1964.
NNAMDIYou spend a lot of time examining politics at a local and regional level in the South and sometimes the nuances you describe, don't come through -- not are really reflected in the national press. Do you think that the media gets the South?
KIDDNo. And I think and what we're arguing is that looking at the South as one, as a monolith, really loses the real complexities and the real interesting character of the South. I mean, there's a reason, for example, that Arkansas -- this year, 2012, Republicans are really excited in Arkansas because it might be the year they take the legislature, the state legislature 2012. Now some states in the South have been controlled by Republicans for years and years.
KIDDSo why is that a state like Arkansas is slow to transform whereas a state like Virginia, you know, in 2000 -- in the early part of this century, Virginia's legislature was taken over by Republicans. So how do you explain those differences? And what we argue is that it's -- you have to look at the relationship between black voters in the Democratic Party and white voters in the Republican Party at the state level, not the regional level, to understand the sort of subtle nuances that go on across the South that we fail to look at when we just treat the South as one monolithic region.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Bob in Wheaton, Md. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBThank you for taking my call. I find this topic interesting and I'm curious, you have two middle eastern governors in the South, South Carolina, Louisiana and Alan West is a congressman from the South It would seem that it's a lot more complex than what you're letting on in terms of efforts to keep blacks or any other ethnicity out of the system.
KIDDWell, I'm not arguing that Republicans are attempting -- you know, 2012 are attempting to keep blacks out of politics. What I'm arguing is that as the two parties -- as voters jostled for which party they were going to control over the last 40 years, race and the politics of race but also the politics of economic space and policy space played a role. I mean, I think, you know, Nicky Hailey and Bobby Gindle (sp?) represent a very conservative view that is consistent with the Republican Parties that they're members of in Louisiana and South Carolina.
KIDDAnd so I don't -- you know, I'm not arguing that they're racist or that they're trying to keep African Americans, you know, out of power at all.
NNAMDIIndeed you made the point somewhere I saw that if you looked at the Republican Party platform in 2004 it was to the left of where the Democratic Party platform was in 1996.
KIDDYeah, and I think that just tells you where parties are. I mean, where they -- you know, parties are -- political parties are ever moving creatures. I mean, they're ever evolving because they're made up of millions of people who have, you know, millions of different views. And the party platforms are common reflections of those views. And so views change, parties change, party positions change.
KIDDYou know, I think you can separate -- in some ways you can separate an anti-federal position in 2012 from an anti-federal position in 1963 or '62 or '61. I mean, they have common roots, but I think Nicky Hailey probably means something different when she argues against the federal government today than Barry Goldwater did in 1963 and '64. Even if they have common roots I think they mean something different to each other.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Our guest is Quentin Kidd, is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University. He's coauthor of the book "The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republic Growth and the Partisan Transformation of the American South." If you have already called, stay on the line. If you haven't yet, the number's 800-433-8850. How does Quentin Kidd's ideas conform to what you've seen or experienced in the South? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Quentin Kidd. He's a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University. He is coauthor along with M. V. Hood, III and Irwin L. Morris of "The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth and the Partisan Transformation of the American South." If you have comments or questions for Quentin Kidd, we'll take them at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIA lot of political scientists like to think of themselves and their work as being important, but, no offense here, most of the time their work is generally read by other political scientists. However, it turns out that our thinking about the South has actually been profoundly influenced by an academic, V. O. Key. Tell us about his black belt hypothesis.
KIDDYeah, Key writing in the late 1940s advanced this black belt hypothesis which essentially said that the greater the concentration of African Americans that whites lived around, the more conservative those whites were. And what he was arguing was a racial context hypothesis that whites felt more threatened if they lived around a larger concentration of African Americans. Now this is at a time when African Americans in the South couldn't vote. So whites didn't feel electoral or political threat. He was talking about cultural and physical and social threat, right.
KIDDAnd so what happened is after the 1964 Civil Rights Act many people who were studying southern politics said, well that's the end of races and issues in Southern politics so we must -- you know, this transformation of the South must be explainable by other things. And so people -- you know, people advocated for example economic transformation in the South was becoming less agrarian and more manufacturing and more service oriented in its economy.
KIDDThere was a massive migration -- out migration of African Americans, in migration of whites from other parts of the country that brought with them more conservative views, you know, in line with the Republican Party. And in the South the religious conservatism, the evangelicalism of the South became more prominent. So, you know, there were these other arguments offered about why the South had transformed itself like it had.
KIDDAnd what we've done is we've come back to Key and said -- you know, V. O. Key was onto something but, you know, it's different today. It isn't that whites are concerned about African-Americans socially or physically or culturally as much as they are electorally. So the larger the concentration of African-Americans, the more political power those African-Americans have.
KIDDAnd so whites are responding to political threats now more than they're responding to any other kinds of threats. And that's what we think is at the root of the transformation of the South is whites responding to black political threats, black potential political power, and real political power after 1964, and African Americans trying to figure out where to exercise that political power. What party do we go to exercise this political power that we have now?
KIDDAnd eventually they end up in the Democratic Party. And whites responding to that -- conservative whites that were formerly Democrats responding to that, end up in the Republican Party. So we argue that Key is still relevant today, 60, you know, almost 70 years later.
NNAMDIA lot of people want to get in on this conversation. I will start with Mike in Annapolis, Md. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEKojo, great show. I am constantly running into this as a liberal Democrat. When I talk to my conservative friends they all point out, oh it was the Democrats that were the -- you know, that were the racist segregationists. And I always point out, well they just changed party, you know. And I would like to, you know, suggest a great documentary that was on PBS not too long ago called "Slavery by Another Name" that just talks about the shameful history of segregation and, you know, how slavery, you know, really existed until the 1940s, until FDR put a stop to it.
MIKEAnd, you know, the federal government didn't get involved because they wanted to. They got involved because they had to. And I think that's at the root. You know, when -- I can't imagine a politician today having the courage of LBJ writing off the whole South saying, you know -- knowing he was going to lose them but doing it anyway.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Quentin Kidd?
KIDDWell, I think that we do have different political parties. The Republican Party of today in the South is not the Republican Part of the 1950s or the 1940s in the South. In the 1940s and '50s there really wasn't a Republican Party in the South. And what Republican Party there was, was in the mountain regions of the South, the western part of Virginia, the western part of North Carolina, the northern part of Arkansas for example.
KIDDThese are parts of the South that didn't have an agrarian economy historically and so they didn't have a slave economy historically, right. And so they tended to be Republican historically because it didn't support the Southern succession during the Civil War. And they were called mountain Republicans and that was really the only place they existed. They really weren't strong enough to play much role in electoral politics.
KIDDThey could elect a member of congress or two if they had a congressional district that was drawn mostly in their area. They could elect a state legislature or two if they had a state legislative district in the area. But other than that they didn't play -- they didn't really play a role. And in many parts of the South, Virginia is a case study, there were really two Democratic Parties. There was the conservative kind of institutional party in Virginia. We called that the bird machine or the bird (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIGetting to that in a second.
KIDDYeah, and then they had what would be the alternative sort of moderate wing of the Democratic Party. So really in the South we had party competition within one party. There really wasn't a Republican Party. So the Republican Party today didn't exist in 1940 or '50.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mike. Here is Jeff in Baltimore, Md. Jeff, your turn.
JEFFHey, thank you so much. We got to remember that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican but my question is concerning whether Madelyn Albright's sister, her dad's mentee, Condoleezza Rice and also this West -- Alan West in Florida I guess...
JEFF...are they rational Southerners?
NNAMDIWould you consider them rational Southerners? Condoleezza Rice hails from Birmingham, Ala., Alan West from Florida. He is currently a conservative member of congress who happens to be African American.
KIDDI don't -- I mean, I don't -- we're not analyzing individuals here. I'm not an armchair psychiatrist or anything but to the extent to which people are acting in their own self interest is they perceive their own self interest. And in the case of Alan West or Condoleezza Rice's parents, if they perceive their self interest in ways that don't really -- where race doesn't really dominate how they think about themselves, then I think they are probably acting rationally.
KIDDAnd I'm not -- you know, I don't know that -- I think everyone acts to some extent in their own self interest. The question is, how does that manifest itself collectively in the context of political parties.
NNAMDIJeff, thank you very much for your call. You mentioned the name Byrd. Few people have had more influence over the direction of Virginia politics in the mid 20th century than Harry F. Byrd, Virginia's Democratic Senator. He served from 1933 to 1965 and who is said to have ruled Virginia with quoting here a soft fist. What was Virginia politics like in this time period?
KIDDWell, it was -- you know, he controlled essentially the Democratic Party whether in office or out of office. And there was sort of a conformist mentality, small government mentality, very -- had its roots in the sort of rural genteel kind of culture of Virginia. And it was very conservative. It was very racially conservative. And if you were going to be anything in Virginia politics you had to sort of get the blessing of Harry Byrd. And that's just -- that's the way it was.
KIDDYou know, V. O. Key that we talked about a little bit earlier described the governor of Virginia as the curator of the political museum. Essentially Virginia didn't change politically for, you know, 50 or 75 years, or didn't change much. And Harry Byrd found himself sort of at the seat of power of a state that didn't change much. And -- but the world was changing around him and the world was changing around the Democratic Party of Virginia, you know, controlled by the Byrd organization. And part of that change was civil rights. And the Byrd organization fought civil rights...
KIDD...through what -- yeah, in Virginia we call it massive resistance. They failed miserably and essentially it was a prelude to the downfall of this oligarchic power structure in Virginia. The nail in the coffin was the Civil Rights Act.
NNAMDIVirginia's political terrain now is extremely diverse in most rural parts of the commonwealth. The Republican Party is firmly in place. Democrats have a firm grip on urban areas. Both parties scrambling to win the suburbs, especially in Northern Virginia and Hampton Rhodes. What are you looking at right now as the indication of which direction these areas might break?
KIDDWell, I'm looking at -- I'm looking to see who turns out to vote. You know, we described the conservative electorate -- historical conservative electorate of Virginia and the more modern African-American electorate that comes from the mid 1960s. Virginia really has two electorates. We saw one electorate in 2008. It's younger, it's browner, it's more urban, a little bit suburban. And we saw the other electorate in 2009. It's older, it's more rural, it's wider.
KIDDSo in a state like Virginia, what we have are two electorates that live side by side. And for a long time the electorate that showed up in 2008 has not really been energized. It hasn't been mobilized. And so in 2012 I'm looking to see, is it the 2009 older, whiter, more conservative electorate that shows up? Is it the 2008 younger, browner, more urban electorate? Or do they both show up in big numbers and then what?
NNAMDIHow did regional dynamics influence the arch of Virginia politics in the period after 1965. In the late '60s and '70s, Northern Virginia and Hampton Rhodes looked a lot different than they do now in terms of who lived there and who worked there.
KIDDYeah, in the 1950s, essentially power resided in Richmond. It was the capitol of -- not just the physical capitol of the state but it was the cultural and political capitol of the state. What we know of as Northern Virginia now was Arlington, Alexandria, a little bit of Fairfax County. But you went too far out in Fairfax County you were just in farmland. Lowden and Prince William were just farmland. That was it. And since then, we've had this rapid expansion of the federal government, rapid expansion in how much money the federal government spends defense infrastructure predominantly. And that's caused this massive growth in Northern Virginia.
KIDDAnd a lot of people in Northern Virginia aren't native Virginians and so they bring a completely different character and history to what is this Virginia that we've been talking about. And I think it's the growth in Northern Virginia that has actually made the state purple. I don't know that absent what's going on in Northern Virginia, Virginia would be purple. I think it would still be a red state. But Northern Virginia's made it purple and that's because it -- there's a different kind of person living in Northern Virginia than the old traditional Virginian, black or white.
NNAMDIQuentin Kidd is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University. He is coauthor of the book "The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth and the Partisan Transformation of the American South." Before I go to the phones of course Harry F. Byrd left the Democratic Party and became an Independent.
NNAMDIWe got this email from Julia in Alexandria who says, "This is an interesting discussion however, please ask your guest about the growing number of Independent voters and people who claim no party. It seems to me that who we or a state votes for may not necessarily mean that the voter supports that party. I'm afraid that we're lacking imagination when we view our political system in stark terms of Republic and Democrat. Perhaps we the voters are looking for just real governance."
KIDDVirginia has a tradition that goes further back than the mid 1960s but we really saw it in the mid 1960s, a tradition of independence on the part of its elected officials. Harry Byrd's refusal to become -- to shift over and become a Republican was rooted in his family's legacy and rooted in his family's allegiance to the Democratic Party. And, you know, think about another -- a Republican Senator that has his political origins in that time, John Warner, who always thought of himself as more of independent-minded Republican. And so there's a long history of this in Virginia. Since the mid-1960s, we've seen a growing number of people say that they don't want to align with either political party. I don't -- it doesn't have as much to do with the dynamics of Virginia specifically, as it does the dynamics of party politics nationally.
NNAMDIAt the national level, a lot of people question whether there is such a phenomenon as an independent. Not so in Virginia.
KIDDYeah. I think that's right. In Virginia people are proudly independent.
NNAMDIOnto the telephone again. Here is Joe in Front Royal, Va. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEYeah. Thank you. One thing that, again, we see this over and over again, particularly the last 15 or 20 years is that you take it for granted that if you're a Republican white person you're a racist and that's the reason you're in the party for racism. The professor indicates it's, you know, you give lip service to the fact that it's wanting the limited federal government all that all kind of stuff, but there again, Kojo, I don't even know if you caught yourself. Several times you just -- the questions you ask just assume it as a fact that all -- well, Republican, white, south, racist.
JOEWell, what about -- what about the fact that -- and I'm not asserting this, but it's equally fair to say black, Democrat, racist, you know. Why, you know, 95 percent or more of African-Americans join a party and it seems like that is much heavier race based than the white side is. Secondly, I think you should all read Ann Coulter's book which analyzes this stuff extremely well about -- if you want to talk about rational voting, one of the most irrational things you can do is, if you are guided by raced-based politics, which I find offensive, and I also find it offensive that it's the underlying function behind some of your questions.
JOEBut if you are, the African-Americans have been the most irrational voters of the last 40 years because look what the policies have done. The Democratic party has just used and taken advantage of their support. So could we please, you know, I think it's very narrow-minded, it's very shallow to say white, Republican, south, racist. The equal has to be true then.
NNAMDIYou have accused me of saying that three times during the course of your question. I will ignore it, and instead, put you on hold and have you listen to Victoria in Bethesda, Md., and then Quentin Kidd. Here is Victoria. Victoria, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
VICTORIAHi. I actually disagree with the premise of the book, and I have the exact opposite viewpoint of the caller. I believe that a lot of southern whites, and I am -- I want to emphasize that I'm talking about the south here. I don't think the Republican party is the same in the north. But having lived in the south, I believe that a lot of southern whites, not all, but a lot who are Republican, are Republican despite the fact that the party does not support policies that are in their economic best interest.
VICTORIAWhat I mean by that is the Democratic party is the party of government programs and subsidies that can help poor people, and it's the party traditionally of the poor, and yet even though a lot of voters who are white and southern are benefiting from those programs, they still do not support the party that put the programs in place.
VICTORIAAnd I just can't see that as anything other than a response to race.
NNAMDIVictoria, thank you very much for your call, but Quentin Kidd, there you have it. Joe on the one hand says blacks who vote Democratic are voting against their interests. Victoria, on the other hand says who -- that poor whites who vote Republican are voting against their interests.
KIDDWell, I think we make a mistake if we see interests solely in economic terms, and I think this works for both African-American voters and poor white voters. African-American voters vote overwhelmingly Democratic. They have for years and years, and they -- so 2008 is not an anomaly. The volume of participation was higher in 2008, but the strength of support is not strange. They're voting for candidates who are representing or are representatives of a party that supports their policy space, you know, school lunch programs, affirmative action programs, you know, other sorts of opportunities that are going to help them both economically and socially climb the social ladder for example.
KIDDAll right? I think poor whites in the south also support candidates who support -- who represents a party who supports their policy space in policy areas that are important to them. You know, abortion for example, religious conservative issues, gay rights for example. And so I don't -- I think we make a mistake if we say being rational is just about being economic. I mean, you may not agree with another person's position on abortion, but if you vote how your position is, then in some ways you're acting very rationally. I think that's the case for both sides.
NNAMDIJoe, thank you very much for your call. We move onto Al in Charlestown, West Va. Al, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALEnjoying your program very much Kojo, and I listen to you quite a bit.
ALI agree with the author. I grew up with people that he is describing. If you look at the news today and see what's happening in the Mid East with the Taliban and so forth, we have that same sort of mentality in the south. I grew up with up. I'm 74. And there's just total -- they just hate people. And I consider those people, the Tea Party, et cetera, et cetera, the American Taliban. How about that?
NNAMDIWell, how about it I'll ask Quentin. West Virginia is an interesting state because it's traditionally a Democratic state, but apparently doesn't like Barack Obama at all.
KIDDWell, it's, you know, prior to the Civil War, West Virginia was a part of Virginia, and it was a part of the -- it was a part of the -- it was a part of the part of Virginia whose economy wasn't tied to the plantation south, so it -- it's economy wasn't tied to the slave economy. And so when Virginia was debating seceding from the Union, the western part of Virginia didn't want to, and the Union was able to separate it and protect it and eventually grant it statehood, but politically, culturally, West Virginia is not much different from western Virginia, and its roots, political and social roots are very similar.
KIDDAnd then when you get into the Piedmont Valley and the southern south side part of Virginia, then you get into a different economy and a different political culture, a different sociological culture.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We move on now to Emmanuel in Baltimore, Md. Emmanuel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EMMANUELHow you doing, Kojo?
NNAMDIYes. We can hear you Emmanuel. Go ahead, please.
EMMANUELOkay. The comment I wanted to make was more or less, okay -- whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, I feel that both parties have some upper echelon people that have driven policies all the way to the point where we seem to be operating in the slave state because we have to make so much money to live the way that you did say 40 years ago, where you could $30,000 and you'd be in good shape, now you need $60,000 to get along good, let alone if you have a family.
EMMANUELAnd I think people vote -- they try to align themselves with somebody who is going to give them help, whether it's Republican or Democrat. What does he think about that?
NNAMDIAgain, the economic argument if you will, Quentin Kidd.
KIDDEconomic populism has been a thread that's run through the south for, you know, for as long as there has been a south. It's a reoccurring part of our politics. I think it's really popped up in a big way recently because the economy has been under stress. We've been in a recession, and that typically causes economic populism and populist messages that have economics at their roots to become much more important, and I think that's what the caller is reflecting the views of, and I think that's a common view right now, not just in the south, but across the country.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. How does Quentin Kidd's hypothesis conform to what you have seen or experienced in the south? The name of the book he co-authored is called "The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth, and the Partisan Transformation of the American South." Quentin Kidd, one of the great wild cards of the presidential race in Virginia is a candidate for the conservative party named Virgil Goode. Goode was previously a Republican Congressman but before that he was a Democrat. Some think he will be the Republican's Ralph Nader in a way, siphoning off votes from Mitt Romney.
NNAMDIHe was selected as the Constitution party's 2012 presidential nominee in April of this year, and at the 2012 Constitution party national convention in Nashville, Goode positioning himself as the truest conservative in this 2012 election.
KIDDI think you can trace Virgil Goode's ideological lineage straight back to Barry Goldwater in fact. I mean, you know, in fact, Virgil Goode wandered from the Democratic party to the Republican party, and then away from the Republican party, and part of his criticism of the Republican party is that it's no longer the Conservative party, that its values and the policies it's supported don't reflect true conservatism, and that's essentially an argument that can rebound back to Barry Goldwater in many ways. So Virgil Goode in some ways represents an argument within conservative ideology.
NNAMDIVirgil Goode, candidate for the Constitution party. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation with Quentin Kidd. If you have called, stay on the line. The number is 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Quentin Kidd. He is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University. He is co-author of the book "The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth, and the Partisan Transformation of the American South." Quentin Kidd, right now the Obama campaign is attempting to mobilize Hispanic voters, and assuming that Hispanics do align with the Democratic party, if in fact as the argument that you have made earlier, are people seeking to align themselves with the party that can provide benefits for them, the party that allows them room to grow and become more powerful, what do you think the dynamic will be between Hispanics and blacks within the Democratic party?
KIDDWell, it depends on whether their policy goals are similar or dissimilar. Right now the policy goals of Hispanics and African Americans are very similar, both - if we can talk about them as groups, both groups generally want a greater economic opportunity. They generally want greater educational opportunity. They want greater social opportunity, and the Democratic party supports policies that promote those things. And so both, um, Hispanics and African Americans benefit in many ways in the same party.
KIDDIf their policy goals diverge, then that's where you would see a problem, I think, with the two large voting blocks in the same party. It's -- Hispanic voters seem to be splitting for the Democrats, you know, 70/30, 60/40, depending upon the election cycle, and the issue seems to be immigration, immigration reform, and how we're going to deal with immigrants, especially Latino-Hispanic immigrants. If that issue goes away, if that -- if somehow Congress finds a way to resolve the immigration issue, it could be the case that the Hispanic population electorally is up for grabs again.
KIDDHispanics are drawn to the Republican message of economic opportunity -- individual economic opportunity to some extent. They are very socially conservative on abortion, pretty socially on gay marriage. And so right now, immigration as an issue galvanizes and organizes Hispanic voters in a way that helps them align with the Democratic party, and to the extent to which that continues to be a big issue for him, is the extent to which they'll continue to find their policy space more friendly in the Democratic party.
NNAMDIGot an email from Beth in DC who says, "You say the old southern Democrat party was working to exclude blacks, then you say blacks moved into the Democratic party after Johnson signed the Civil Rights law, and then you say it was not racism that caused whites to leave the Democratic party but instead it was fear of competition from blacks. Have you ever heard of Occam's Razor? The simplest explanation is correct, and that is that southern whites did not want to be in a party with blacks. End of story. All this other embroidering is fig leaf attempt to obscure the basic truth." What say you?"
KIDDI haven't embroidered for awhile, but it isn't that white conservatives didn't simply want to sit next to a black person. It's that the policy goals of the conservative white southerner, who probably was a supporter of segregation and a segregationist, the policy goals were different from the African American who was newly politically enfranchised and trying to find a home. And so from a, you know, thinking about policy rationally, both policies couldn't be had in the same party.
KIDDSo both the African-American voter and the white conservative voter had to find different parties to be in because their policy space couldn't occupy the same party, and that's really where the jostling happens.
NNAMDIVirginia may well determine the outcome of the presidential race, but the race for an open U.S. Senate seat could also determine who controls that body. So far, the race between former Virginia Governors Tim Kaine and George Allen appears to track with the national race between President Obama and Governor Romney. What can we expect from the Virginia Senate race, and how will it play into the presidential election?
KIDDWell, my sense up until a couple weeks ago is that the job of George of Allen and Tim Kaine was to water -- to stay on their water skis behind the speed boats of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I think, however, it appears to me that the Kaine campaign has opened up a bit of a lead in the polls that seems to be consistent, whereas at the presidential level in Virginia, the polling continues to go back and forth.
KIDDSo my sense is that voters are settling to some extent on the Senate candidates before they're settling on the presidential candidates, and they seem to be settling for Kaine right now. You know, we still have three-and-a-half weeks away, but it looks to me like they're settling on Kaine a little bit more than they are on Allen, whereas at the presidential level it's still up in the air.
NNAMDIQuentin Kidd. He is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University. He is co-author of the book "The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth, and the Partisan Transformation of the American South." Quentin Kidd, thank you so much for joining us.
KIDDThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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