Why Are Democrats Doing So Well in the South?

Mitch McConnell needs evangelicals to win in Kentucky

Over at The Atlantic, Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institution has made a very interesting observation about evangelicals and the mid-term elections in the South.  Jones argues that the five closest Senate races in the region (Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky)  have one thing in common: the proportion of white evangelical Protestants has dropped significantly.  Here is a taste:


Two forces account for the declining proportions of white evangelical and mainline Protestants: the growth of non-black ethnic minorities and, perhaps surprisingly, the growth of the religiously unaffiliated across the South. Notably, each of these growing constituencies leans decidedly toward Democratic candidates. For example, in 2007, the religiously unaffiliated constituted 12 percent each of the populations of Kentucky and North Carolina. By 2013, the percentage of unaffiliated Kentuckians had jumped nine points to 21 percent, and the percentage of unaffiliated North Carolinians had jumped to 17 percent. While increases in the proportions of the religiously unaffiliated in Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana fall short of statistical significance, the patterns all point in the same direction.

So what does this mean for the 2014 elections? Certainly, events on the ground are still paramount; the campaign machines and peculiarities of candidates matter. And in low-turnout elections such as the midterms, the real weight of these demographic and religious shifts will not yet be fully felt at the ballot box. White evangelical Protestants have a strong turnout record, while non-black ethnic minorities and particularly the religiously unaffiliated are much less likely to vote. PRRI’s pre-election American Values Survey found that while two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants report that they were absolutely certain to vote in the November elections, less than half (45 percent) of the religiously unaffiliated report this kind of certainty. But the underlying trends indicate that at least one reason why there are a number of close elections across the South is the declining dominance of white evangelical Protestants, the most stalwart of GOP supporters.

Historians of the South:  Feel free to chime in.

3 thoughts on “Why Are Democrats Doing So Well in the South?

  1. Democrats screw up their own blue states, then go infest the red ones.

    [Oregon, New Hampshire, etc.]

    ;-P

    Add in the influx of Hispanics, who vore Dem, and I'll posit that's where the action is.

    Regardless of the %age of evangelicals, I expect that the Dem share of the white vote continues to head, er, south.

    A Democrat hasn't won the national white vote since LBJ, and here in CA, where the Dems are about to win a supermajority in the legislature, Jerry Brown–who will win by at least 15 points–trails among white voters!

    I think the real phenomenon isn't white evangelicals voting GOP, but the shrinking minority who still vote Democrat–the irreligious, the government employees, the academics/teachers.

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  2. This analysis seems, generally speaking, right to me. In this sense, it seems like part of a longer story of the changing political nature of the South since the mid or even early twentieth century.

    I would underscore two things. 1) The suburban/urban vs. rural divide that is part of national electoral politics is also key in the South. The bigger Sunbelt cities and college towns are going to look different than the South writ large. But those metro areas are also where most people live. 2) Even in those bigger metro areas, the South is still very much the Bible Belt; this change is very gradual.

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