Panel debates cause of decline in white Southern Democrats

By Ben Hoover - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Since election day, at least two major newspapers including the state in Columbia have printed articles about the decline of white democrats in the south. We gathered a former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, a USC history professor, and the political director of the state Senate Democratic Caucus to find out why.

Former South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Dick Harpootlian says the decline of white Democrats in the south has to do with reapportioning congressional districts, starting in the late 1980s. "The Republicans were very adept at creating large black majority districts, which meant huger majority white districts, and so we basically re-segregated our state base on reapportionment," said Harpootlian. "The idea, and it was a noble idea for the '65 Civil Rights Act, white folks in the south wouldn't vote for black folks, and it was true."
USC history professor Dr. Lacy Ford said the rise of the Republican Party in the south was tied to backlash from the civil rights movement. "The key was the Democratic Party supported the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's," said Ford. "That's when you got the first big Republican vote in South Carolina at the national level."

One campaign strategist says, "Right now it is culturally unacceptable to be a Democrat in Dixie."

"I don't agree with that at all," argued Democratic political operative Phil Bailey. "But it is a challenge when the Republicans nationalize the election like they did this year."
But Dr. Ford says resurrection is always possible in the political world. "I think generational change stands to help the Democrats in South Carolina," said Ford. "Younger people across the nation and in South Carolina are more likely to vote Democrat than people 20 years older."

You can see the entire discussion Sunday on Newswatch at 10:30am on WIS.

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