Times Are Changing: New Poll Finds a Change in Southern Campaign Strategies in Future Elections

By Mason Carr
Lemke Newsroom

The increasingly diverse political and emotional landscape of the South may lead to new “southern strategies,” according to findings from the Blair-Rockefeller poll.

The Blair-Rockefeller poll is a national socio-political survey conducted during election years with a special focus on Latinos, African Americans, and the South. Political scientists at the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society in Old Main created the poll to get an honest evaluation of the South which has traditionally been misrepresented in national polls with small sample sizes and little minority representation, said Angie Maxwell, who holds the Blair Center Chair of Southern Studies and assistant professor of political science.

Angie Maxwell, Blair Center Chair of Southern Studies, sits at her office Tuesday, September 18. (Photo By Mason Carr, LEMKE NEWSROOM)

The 2010 Census showed nine southern states have had nearly 100 percent increases in Latino populations since 2000. Only two southern states, Texas and Florida, had Latino populations more than 10 percent of their total population though, at 32 and 23 percent respectively. Six southern states had African-American populations of at least 20 percent. Georgia, Florida and North Carolina had an increase of at least 15 percent in African-American population since 2000. Sixteen percent of Florida’s population is African-American.

The Blair polls survey six groups, southern and non-southern Latinos, African-Americans, and whites.

The most recent polls — conducted in 2010 and released in 2011 — showed little differences on most issues between Southerners and non-Southerners when representative samples of African-Americans and Latinos, minorities who typically vote Democratic, are included in the overall sample. But differences were pronounced between Southern and non-Southern whites, Maxwell said.

“White Southerners are what is skewing the South as conservative,” she said.

In 2008, Barack Obama won North Carolina, Florida and Virginia. With the exception of Florida, those states were not considered competitive enough to vote Democratic, she said. But voter registration drives attracted enough minorities and first-time voters to win those states.


“If Republicans start losing Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina consistently, then winning the Electoral College becomes a very hard thing for them to do,” Maxwell said. “If Republicans want to maintain dominance [in the South], they really have to activate that [Southern white] base. They may need to expand that base, or make policy changes to include African Americans and Latinos. If Democrats want to continue to compete in the South, they really have to reach out to African Americans and Latinos, which are a growing population in the South, so they can offset the fact that the white Southern voice is more conservative.”

The one thing that characterizes the South, across races, is religion, Maxwell said.

Around 41 percent of Southerners believe that the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally, word for word, with no interpretation, compared to around 31 percent of non-Southerners, according to the poll.

The group that has the largest percentage of bible literalists is southern African Americans, Maxwell said.

“In the South, African Americans are privileging voting on policies related to the economy and equal opportunity programs over their personal views on socially conservative policies. They may be Democrat, but they are not socially liberal,” she said, because bible literalists tend to be socially conservative.


Another commonality between Southern African Americans and Southern whites is feelings of discrimination, according to Blair Center research.

Nearly 50 percent of Southern whites answered that they feel discrimination daily, compared to almost 39 percent of non-Southern whites.

Around 80 percent of both Southern and non-Southern African Americans said they feel discriminated against daily, according to the research.

However, both Southern whites and African Americans who identified themselves as Southern answered that they felt discriminated against more often than those who did not identify as Southern.

“If you get underneath the label, people who identify as Southern tend to report feeling discriminated against, feeling that kind of butt of the jokes.  We see that as a commonality among African Americans and white Southerners, though they obviously probably feel that for different reasons. But they share that experience. So it can have political implications in which the way politicians talk to Southern audiences. If you can appeal to people feeling they got the short end of the stick, that is something that can appeal to self-identified Southern whites and self-identified Southern African Americans,” Maxwell said.


Latinos might mold the greatest changes to the Southern political landscape though.

Latinos, despite leaning Democratic, were largely neutral on policy issues, according to the Blair Center research.

“Whoever gets that Latino vote is going to potentially alter the competitive nature of the South in national elections. If Republicans get the Latino vote, then the South is out of reach. If Democrats get the Latino vote, then some sections of the South will become competitive again,” Maxwell said.

The growing diversity in the South could have an effect on the political landscape, said Hoyt Purvis, director of the Fulbright Institute of International Studies, and a political columnist for Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.

“I can’t say with absolute certainty, but there is the possibility that the growing presence of African Americans and Latinos in the South and Southwest will have an effect on the political landscape,” he said. “The Republican domination of the South has the possibility to reverse, assuming these broad groups stay under the Democratic umbrella.”

The results of the 2012 poll will be available in January 2013, Maxwell said.