The “Other Red Tide” Frustrating Both the Gulf Coast and the Democratic Party

Gulf Coast States

There is an interesting lesson for all of us in “Gulf Coast States Politics” that illustrates both a key way our current polarization developed and the adverse consequences when it happens.

Most of us know that for over 100 years the Democrats controlled the South, but now they don’t.   Wikipedia: “For nearly a century after Reconstruction, the white South identified with the Democratic Party.”  Accordingly, the South was mostly represented by Democratic Congressmen and Senators.  This began to change in the 1970’s and by 1994, the balance had switched to the GOP.  Today, most of the South is represented by Republican Congressmen and Senators.

The prevailing explanation is that the Democratic party’s support for civil rights legislation in the sixties alienated white southern voters, driving them to the GOP.  In my opinion that support was the right thing to do, but it doesn’t explain the entire shift, as Lyndon Johnson signed that legislation in 1964, yet the southern delegation remained predominantly Democrat for another thirty years.  It does, however, signal the beginning of what became a momentous shift in national US politics.

The Shift Felt Across the Country

Before this shift, the Democratic party nationally leaned left, but was not homogeneous, because, of course, it included this large Southern delegation, most of which was solidly right.   So in terms of the caucus in the houses of Congress, and the influencers on formulation of national party positions, there were moderating factors keeping the party, on balance, closer to center.

But as the Southern Democrats began to lose elections and drop out of the caucus, the average ideological position of the party shifted left.  And the further left it shifted, the less attractive the party became to the southern white voter, causing yet more southern Democrats to lose election.  At the same time, with its now more leftward sensibility, it became less palatable to the national party to compromise principles in order to appeal to Southern voters.  And the map shows what resulted.(1)

The opposite happened to the GOP, of course.  Prior to this period the GOP had a moderate wing including, among others, “Rockefeller Republicans.”  But, as with the averaging math on the Democrat’s side, as a more conservative southern Republican caucus built up, the party mathematically shifted right.  Studies have established that since 1970 actually the GOP has shifted markedly further right than the Democrats have shifted left.  (Part of this, in fairness, is that there were over twice as many Democratic (295) as Republican (140) representatives in 1965, so if an equal amount of conservative seats switch from the Democrats to the Republicans, that will have a greater proportional impact on the GOP than on the Dems.)

The Result: Today’s Red Uniformity

So here we are today.  It’s useful to look specifically at “The Gulf Coast States,” where this effect is most uniformly displayed. The GOP controls:

  • 100% of the Senate seats along the Gulf,
  • 2/3 of the House seats,
  • All but one of the Governorships and
  • All five states broke for Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Think about that.  Uniformity.  There are Democratic leaders in the South — currently 26 Congressmen, 1 Governor (LA) and numerous big city mayors — but lest there be any question about who is in charge, just look at who stomped who in the recent dust-up between the mayors of cities such as Miami — who tried to implement mask ordnances — and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who simply nullified their ordnances by fiat and dismissed all associated citations issued.  Similar thing in Texas. The GOP rules the South.

This is the very definition of a polarized region.

In Anyone’s Interests?

And what is it like, here in this region? Right-of-center though I lean, I suggest the current situation is in no one’s interests.

As for the Democrats, they have essentially no influence on the Gulf Coast.  This is a problem for the national party, because not only does this cost them ten Senate seats and 51 in the House, but that region also holds the nation’s 2nd (TX) and 4th (FL) largest electoral college delegations, which contributed to losses to both Donald Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush twice.  (Recall the “Hanging chad.”)

But the Gulf Coast faces its own problems with the situation.  In the current regime where one party controls all three of the White House, Senate and Congress, these five states now have little meaningful influence within that controlling party and by extension, on national affairs.  None in the White House.  None in the Senate.  Collectively just 11% in the Congress.  It’s a problem, if you want your borders secured, your oil industry looked after, your Cuban-American interests represented, your sea level rise mitigation infrastructure funded, your retiree population cared for.

That is polarization for us. And it’s not in our interests.

But wait…

There is perhaps an alternative. This is an imperfect example, but there is another interesting, and quite recent, lesson just one state north of the Gulf Coast, in Georgia. Georgia just elected two Democrats to the Senate. In so doing, the Democrats won effective control of the Senate and Georgia won outsized influence with the now ruling party. I want to reemphasize that this is an imperfect example, but if nothing else it illustrates how moving away from polarization can be a “win-win” for all participants.

A lesson for Democrats, Republicans, the Gulf Coast and, really, all of us. We work better when we maintain influence with each other.

(1) Note that during the eighties, the Democrats’ leftward shift reversed and the party tacked back toward center as it realized it had become out of sync with the electorate.  But the Democratic Leadership Committee is a topic for a later post.

Map photo credit: User:Derfel73; User:Wapcaplet; User:Angr, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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