Dr. Charles S. Bullock III, Richard B. Russell Professor and Professor of Political Science, co-authored a book entitled The Changing Political South: How Minorities and Women are Transforming the Region, wherein he evaluates the effects of voter demographics on partisanship in the south. Dr. Bullock further illuminates the scope of his book in his answers to the questions below.

What influenced you to research the changing political south?

The Changing Political South is the third volume we have done on southern politics.  The first volume, The South and the Transformation of U. S. Politics, set up a dichotomy – the Growth South and the Stagnant South.  The five states in the latter category remain the South of a bygone era with little change in the size of their populations, the strength of their economies or the partisan orientation of their politics.  The Growth South, as the name implies, is dynamic.  The six states in this category have populations growing faster than that of the nation.  They attract new residents from around the country.  These new residents have begun changing the politics albeit not at the same pace. From a baseline a few years ago when all of the South was solidly Republican, Virginia has shifted the most and now, except for 2021, has consistently voted for Democrats in statewide contests.  Georgia, Florida and North Carolina have each provided some rewards to Democratic presidential candidates since 2008 and Georgia and North Carolina currently have Democrats holding offices elected statewide.  Texas and South Carolina have shown less movement from R to D but Democrats have clawed back some legislative seats in the Lone Star State.

The Changing Political South focuses on the bases for the changes in partisan orientations witnessed in the Growth States. Comparisons involving all 11 southern states document how the Growth States differ from the Stagnant ones. The resurgence of the Democratic Party in Growth States is being fueled by changes in the composition of the electorate.  Each of the groups examined in this volume is more likely to vote Democratic than those not in one of the groups, i.e., White males.  African Americans have long been the most loyal component of the Democratic coalition in the South.  In recent years, Hispanic and Asian voters have aligned with Black voters although less cohesively.  Women in every ethnic group tend to be more Democratic than men with Black women sometimes referred to as the backbone of the Democratic Party.  As outlined in Chapter 2, Democratic success depends on doing well enough among the groups at the heart of this volume to offset loss of the White male vote.

Why should someone read your book?

This book is for readers who want to understand the extent to which the South may be on the verge of realigning from the GOP back to the Democratic Party with an understanding that even among the states offering Democrats their best prospects, there is wide variation. In Virginia, unlike the other 5 states, Republicans are the minority party. At the other extreme among Growth States, Democrats in South Carolina have made little progress with the modest gains registered in 2018 subsequently wiped out. Democrats have no immediate prospects for success in the Stagnant States.

This book prepares the reader to better anticipate and understand future elections in the Growth South. Understanding the politics of this sub-region is important for understanding the future of American politics since the South casts more Electoral College votes than any other region and is the basis for Republican majorities when they exist in Congress. Georgia was Biden’s narrowest win percentagewise in 2020 while North Carolina was Trump’s closest victory.  These 2 states along with Florida will continue to be hotly contested in presidential elections and, may in time, be joined by Texas. Understanding why one or the other party is in position to govern requires an understanding of the politics of the states in our volume.

Why do minorities and women tend to align more strongly with the democratic party?

At least since the middle of the 20th century, the Democratic Party has been more consistent than the GOP in bringing excluded groups into the centers of power. The Democratic Party under President Lyndon Johnson overcame the Conservative  Coalition and passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The former covered a wider range of activities than any civil rights legislation before or since and the latter removed the remaining barriers that had fenced most southern African Americans out of the political arena. Currently, female, Black, Hispanic and Asian officeholders are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. Their presence in legislative chambers and on court benches have kept the Democratic Party at the forefront of policies favored by these groups.

Does this phenomenon suppose that the Republican Party will need to make strong appeals to minorities and women in order to survive?

As each census shows, Whites constitute ever smaller shares of the U.S. population. A few states, including Texas, are already majority-minority and Georgia may have reached that point. Florida will probably be majority-minority by 2030. If the bulk of the voters in the three ethnic groups align with the Democratic Party, they with a share of White women will increasingly be positioned to determine electoral outcomes in much of the South. However, as current polling indicates, Democrats cannot assume that the successes they have enjoyed with ethnic groups will persist. There is the potential for conflict between groups as has happened in Miami that will test the skills of Democratic leaders. The last couple of election cycles have seen Republicans trying to make in-roads with ethnic groups. As recently as 2022, shifts toward the GOP were minor but polling in 2024, if an accurate indication of what may take place in the presidential election, portrays a situation in which Republicans may be able to meld minorities in the ethnic groups with strong White male support and win.

What does the future hold for the political south?

With most states non-competitive, the South has the potential to determine which party controls the White House and the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Four of the states at the heart of this study have voted for each party’s presidential nominee at least once in the last 20 years. These states have 28% of the Electoral College votes needed to win and have 31% of the membership needed to form a majority in the House of Representatives. Of the competitive states in presidential elections, these 4 states, with 75 electors, have more influence over the outcome of the next 2 presidential elections than the other 6 swing states combined. The Growth South will be the setting for many of the battles fought out in future presidential elections.