• Striking diversity (and problems for women and minorities) in Georgia.
• Rise of Independents in increasingly purple North Carolina.
• Return of the Ten Commandments judge in Alabama.
• Role of ideology and religiosity in Tea Party of Virginia.
• Melting pot politics in Florida.
For the past few weeks, I have been posting some very interesting scholarship presented by professional South-watchers at a recent Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics. Now, here are a few field reports about current developments in their states.
Charles S. Bullock III (University of Georgia), a leading analyst of southern politics, credits electoral reapportionment for major reshaping of Peach State politics in Atlanta and Washington. "Obviously not everything that comes after an event can be attributed to that event. Despite that caveat, transformation of Georgia's representational format set in motion a number of changes that have become magnified over time and have shaped the state's political environment." The shift to a population-based districting scheme opened the way for a more diverse politics involving Republicans, African-Americans, and other minorities.
However, Karen L. Owen (Reinhardt University) and Mark E. Owens (University of Georgia) report that, in the latest round of redistricting, women in the Geogria Legislature have been short-changed politically. In 2011 reapportionment, female incumbents ended up facing entirely new voters, being paired with more senior incumbents, or running in much more competitive environments. Moreover, what is characterized as a gender-blind redistricting process leads to an outcome that structurally disadvantages the few female state legislators who serve. Because mapmakers must adhere to the constitutional and statutory obligations, especially those constraints imposed with preclearance, female incumbents are not protected. "In the aggregate, female representation in legislative bodies is not increasing because those in the political process are not actively protecting female incumbents."
Also, Carry Smith (Clark Atlanta University) adds that recent Voting Rights Acts developments could lead to more problems in maintaining diversity in Georgia. "Majority minority comprised districts are constitutionally protected, however the change in DOJ oversight, will allow the Republican Governor and Legislature ... an advantage over Democrats in the next redistricting and reapportionment cycle."
Christopher A. Cooper (Western Carolina University) and H. Gibbs Knotts (College of Charleston) call North Carolina the "bluest red state" in America. "We argue that North Carolina is not as red as the Republican legislature would lead you to believe, and not as blue as the protestors outside of the General Assembly would like it to be. It is undeniably, and brightly purple. And, as one of the few true toss-up states in the politically important South, it will play a key role determining who sits in the White House following the November 2016 election and beyond."
J. Michael Bitzer (Catawba College) attempted to fathom some of the patterns underlying competitive politics in the Tar Heel State. By analyzing recent statewide elections, he reports that, "with the advent of a new millennium, North Carolina had entered into true two-party competition." Among his noticeable findings, (1) there has been a dramatic rise of independent voters; (2) the Republican Party is overwhelmingly dependent on the shrinking White electorate; (3) the Democrats enjoy growing strength among minorities; (3) rural areas still predominate but urban and suburban areas are growing in influence; and (4) early voting is very popular among North Carolinians.
Phillip Bridgmon and Shannon Bridgmon (Northeastern State University in Oklahoma) looked at the interesting case of Judge Roy Moore, the "Ten Commandments" judge who was re-elected in 2012. Their conclusion: "Alabama can always count on Moore to be, well, Roy Moore. Critics will continue to view his actions using his official capacity to engage in political theatrics. Supporters and Moore alike characterize him as an official who will continue to "uphold the law". With Alabama's electorate committed to Republicans in statewide races, Moore's continued success will depend on his ability to placate the GOP establishment and maintain their support in primary elections to come."
M.V. Hood, III (University of Georgia), Quentin Kidd (Christopher Newport University) and Irwin L. Morris (University of Maryland) tried to determine the extent to which race might figure into Tea Party voting patterns among Virginians in 2013. They compared the "roll-off" factor (comparing returns for the White gubernatorial candidate and the Black lieutenant governor candidate); and they found no evidence to support that hypothesis. "In short, we find little evidence of voting pattrs consistent with racial conservatism/resentment among Tea Party supporters ... In the South, Tea Party membership is more likely to be driven by ideology or religiosity than racial conservatism."
Susan MacManus (University of South Florida) presented a striking picture of how much the Sunshine State differs from the stereotypical South. Her review of minority trailblazers reveals a dazzling display of "melting pot" politics. "The results clearly show the emergence and impact of "identity politics," as streams of new arrivals (black and Hispanic) from different Latin American and Caribbean countries have poured into the Sunshine State and clustered in different geographical locations."
AUTHOR NOTE: This column is part of a series of posts about Southern politics. These posts derive from the 2014 Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics, a gathering of regional specialists in historic Charleston, SC. This Symposium has been held every other year since 1978; and it has become a main event for serious South-watchers from around the country. A hundred specialists -- representing scholars from about 50 academic institutions -- participated in the most recent conference, March 6-7, 2014. In this series, I will attempt to incorporate pertinent aspects of the presented papers and some of my own comments into various themes.