A report on Southern strategy

The Southern United States as defined by the Census Bureau
Richard Nixon campaigning in 1968
1920 presidential election map showing Democrat James M. Cox winning only the Solid South and Republican Warren G. Harding prevailing in the electoral college. From the time of Reconstruction until the Civil Rights Era, the Southern states consistently supported the Democratic candidate for President.
Editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast from the January 18, 1879 issue of Harper's Weekly criticizing the use of literacy tests. It shows "Mr. Solid South" writing on the wall: "Eddikashun qualifukashun. The Blak man orter be eddikated afore he kin vote with us Wites." The Republican Nast often satirized the Democratic Party by caricaturing its adherents as poor, ignorant, and violent.
1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater won his home state of Arizona and five states in the Deep South, depicted in red. The Southern states, traditionally Democratic up to that time, voted Republican primarily as a statement of opposition to the Civil Rights Act, which had been passed in Congress earlier that year. Capturing 61.1% of the popular vote and 486 electors, Johnson won in a landslide.
Alabama Governor George Wallace
Lee Atwater

Republican Party electoral strategy to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans.

- Southern strategy
The Southern United States as defined by the Census Bureau

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Southern United States

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Geographic and cultural region of the United States of America.

Geographic and cultural region of the United States of America.

Texas Hill Country
Bluegrass region, Kentucky
Glass Mountains, Oklahoma
North Carolina's Appalachian Mountains
Field of yellow wildflowers in Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana
Pearl River backwater in Mississippi
Misty Bluff along the Buffalo River, Ozark Mountains, Arkansas
Tidal wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland
Cherry River in West Virginia
The highlands of Grayson County in Southwest Virginia
1st Maryland Regiment holding the line at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina, 1781
The siege of Yorktown prompted Great Britain's surrender in North America during the American Revolutionary War, 1781
Slaves on a South Carolina plantation (The Old Plantation, circa 1790)
Grove Plantation in Tallahassee, Florida. Known officially as the Call/Collins House at the Grove. Built circa 1840.
Horse race meeting at Jacksonville, Alabama, 1841
Historic Southern United States. The states in light red were considered "border states", and gave varying degrees of support to the Southern cause although they remained in the Union. This illustration depicts the original, trans-Allegheny borders of Virginia, and thus does not show West Virginia (which separated from Virginia in 1863) separately. Although members of the Five Tribes in Indian Territory (today part of Oklahoma) aligned themselves with the Confederacy, the region is not shaded because at the time it was a territory, not a state.
Atlanta's railroad roundhouse in ruins shortly after the end of the Civil War
An African American family, photo-graphed by O'Pierre Havens, circa 1868
A Home on the Mississippi, by Currier and Ives, 1871
Child laborers in Bluffton, South Carolina, 1913
An illustration from Houston: Where Seventeen Railroads Meet the Sea, 1913
Photo of sharecropper family in Walker County, Alabama, circa 1937
Naval Air Station Miami, circa 1942–43
Street musicians in Maynardville, Tennessee, photographed in 1935
Alabama plays Texas in American football for the 2010 BCS National Championship Game
Houston vs Texas face-off during the 2013 Lone Star Series in the American League West division of Major League Baseball
The start of the 2015 Daytona 500, the biggest race in NASCAR, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida
A rally against school integration in Little Rock, 1959.
U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson signs the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Bill Clinton, newly elected Governor of Arkansas speaking with Jimmy Carter in 1978. Carter and Clinton were both Southern Democrats and elected to the presidencies in 1976 and 1992.
Racial segregation was required by state laws in the South and other U.S. states until 1964.
Dallas
Houston
Washington, D.C.
Miami
Atlanta
Tampa
Charlotte
Nashville
Louisville
New Orleans
University of Texas at Austin
Virginia Tech
University of Miami
Rice University

National Republicans such as Richard Nixon began to develop their Southern strategy to attract conservative white Southerners, especially the middle class and suburban voters, in addition to migrants from the North and traditional GOP pockets in Appalachia.

Republican Party (United States)

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One of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States.

One of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States (1861–1865) and the first Republican to hold the office
Charles R. Jennison, an anti-slavery militia leader associated with the Jayhawkers from Kansas and an early Republican politician in the region
Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States (1869–1877)
James G. Blaine, 28th & 31st Secretary of State (1881; 1889–1892)
William McKinley, 25th president of the United States (1897–1901)
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States (1901–1909)
Herbert Hoover, 31st president of the United States (1929–1933)
Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States (1981–1989)
Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States (2017–2021)
Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (1923–1929)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, 38th governor of California (2003–2011)
John McCain, United States senator from Arizona (1987–2018)
Donald Rumsfeld, 21st United States Secretary of Defense (2001–2006)
Colin Powell, 65th United States Secretary of State (2001–2005)
Newt Gingrich, 50th Speaker of the House of Representatives (1995–1999)
Annual population growth in the U.S. by county - 2010s
This map shows the vote in the 2020 presidential election by county.
Political Spectrum Libertarian Left    Centrist   Right  Authoritarian
U.S. opinion on gun control issues is deeply divided along political lines, as shown in this 2021 survey.

Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the party's core base shifted, with southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics.

Democratic Party (United States)

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One of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States.

One of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States.

Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States (1829–1837) and the first Democratic president.
Martin Van Buren was the eighth president of the United States (1837–1841) and the second Democratic president.
Senator Stephen A. Douglas
The 1885 inauguration of Grover Cleveland, the only president with non-consecutive terms
Leaders of the Democratic Party during the first half of the 20th century on 14 June 1913: Secretary of State William J. Bryan, Josephus Daniels, President Woodrow Wilson, Breckinridge Long, William Phillips, and Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, 32nd and 33rd presidents of the United States (1933–1945; 1945–1953), featured on a campaign poster for the 1944 presidential election
John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, 35th and 36th presidents of the United States (1961–1963, 1963–1969)
Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States (1977–1981), delivering the State of the Union Address in 1979
Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States (1993–2001), at The Pentagon in 1998
Barack Obama speaking to College Democrats of America in 2007
President Barack Obama meeting with the Blue Dog Coalition in the State Dining Room of the White House in 2009
Eleanor Roosevelt at the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago
President Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law at the White House on March 23, 2010
Secretary of State John Kerry addressing delegates at the United Nations before signing the Paris Agreement on April 22, 2016
Shirley Chisholm was the first major-party African American candidate to run nationwide primary campaigns.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Immigration Act of 1965 as Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy and others look on
Then-Senator Barack Obama shaking hands with an American soldier in Basra, Iraq in 2008
President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with President Barack Obama at Ben Gurion Airport in 2013
Self-identified Democrats (blue) versus self-identified Republicans (red) (January–June 2010 data)
Higher percentages of Democrats than Republicans are members of union households.
Elected at age 33, Jon Ossoff is currently the youngest member of the U.S. Senate.
Hillary Clinton was the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg
Vice President Kamala Harris
Julián Castro served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
U.S. opinion on gun control issues is deeply divided along political lines, as shown in this 2021 survey.

Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the core bases of the two parties shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic.

Political realignment

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Set of sharp changes in party ideology, issues, party leaders, regional and demographic bases of power of political parties, and the structure or rules of the political system, such as voter eligibility or financing.

Set of sharp changes in party ideology, issues, party leaders, regional and demographic bases of power of political parties, and the structure or rules of the political system, such as voter eligibility or financing.

The 1968 election is often cited due to the innovative campaign strategy of Nixon. In running against Hubert Humphrey, he used what became known as the Southern strategy. He appealed to white voters in the South with a call for "states' rights", which they interpreted as meaning that the federal government would no longer demand the forced busing of school children as ordered by federal courts. Democrats protested that Nixon exploited racial fears in winning the support of white southerners and northern white ethnics. Roosevelt's New Deal coalition had lasted over 30 years but after the urban riots and Vietnam crisis of the mid 1960s one by one the coalition partners peeled away until only a hollow core remained, setting the stage for a GOP revival. Nixon's downfall postponed the realignment which came about under Reagan, as even the term "liberalism" fell into disrepute.

Richard Nixon

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The 37th president of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974.

The 37th president of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974.

Nixon (second from right) makes his newspaper debut in 1916, contributing five cents to a fund for war orphans. His brother Donald is to his right.
Nixon at Whittier High School, 1930
Nixon's family: Julie and David Eisenhower, President Nixon, First Lady Pat Nixon, Tricia and Edward Cox (December 24, 1971)
Lieutenant Commander Richard Nixon, United States Navy (circa 1945)
Nixon's congressional campaign flyer
Nixon campaigning for the Senate, 1950
Nixon campaigns in Sausalito, California, 1950
Official Vice Presidential portrait
Front cover of literature for the Eisenhower–Nixon campaign, 1952
Nikita Khrushchev and Nixon speak as the press looks on at the Kitchen Debate, July 24, 1959
John F. Kennedy and Nixon before their first televised 1960 debate
1960 electoral vote results
Nixon and Lyndon Johnson leave the White House for the Kennedy–Johnson inauguration
Nixon shows his papers to an East German officer to cross between the sectors of the divided City of Berlin, 1963
Nixon and Johnson meet at the White House before Nixon's nomination, July 1968
Nixon campaigning July 1968
1968 electoral vote results; the popular vote between Nixon and Humphrey was less than one percentage point apart
Nixon is sworn in as the 37th President by Chief Justice Earl Warren. The new First Lady, Pat, holds the family Bible.
Mao Zedong and Nixon
Nixon delivers an address to the nation about the incursion in Cambodia
Nixon visits American troops in South Vietnam, July 30, 1969
Nixon with Mexican president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (to his right); motorcade in San Diego, California, September 1970
Nixon with Brezhnev during the Soviet leader's trip to the U.S., 1973
Nixon with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, June 1974
Nixon at the Washington Senators' 1969 Opening Day with team owner Bob Short (arms folded) and Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (hand on mouth). Nixon's aide, Major Jack Brennan, sits behind them in uniform.
Nixon gives 1971 State of the Union Address
Official Nixon portrait by James Anthony Wills, c. 1984
Graph of increases in U.S. incarceration rate
Nixon visiting the Apollo 11 astronauts in quarantine aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet
1972 electoral vote results
Nixon takes questions at 1973 press conference
Demonstrator demands impeachment, October 1973
Nixon announces the release of edited transcripts of the Watergate tapes, April 29, 1974
Nixon's farewell speech to the White House staff, August 9, 1974
President Ford announcing his decision to pardon Nixon, September 8, 1974, in the Oval Office
President Jimmy Carter and ex-Presidents Gerald Ford and Nixon meet at the White House before former Vice President Hubert Humphrey's funeral, 1978
Nixon speaking with Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping and U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the White House, 1979
President Ronald Reagan meets with his three immediate predecessors, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Nixon at the White House, October 1981; the three former presidents would represent the United States at the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Nixon with President Bill Clinton in the residence of the White House, March 1993
Five U.S. presidents (including then-incumbent President Bill Clinton) and their wives attending the funeral of Richard Nixon, April 27, 1994
The graves of President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon
Richard Nixon's Presidential Library and Museum located in Yorba Linda, California
With Elvis Presley in December 1970: "The President & The King"
Presidents Gerald Ford, Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter in 1991
Campaign button ironically emphasizing the personality and public image assessments discussed in this section
Nixon with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, June 1974.
Nixon in Yorba Linda, 1950

Through his first term, he pursued a Southern Strategy with policies, such as his desegregation plans, that would be broadly acceptable among Southern whites, encouraging them to realign with the Republicans in the aftermath of the civil rights movement.

1968 United States presidential election

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The 46th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 5, 1968.

The 46th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 5, 1968.

Richard Nixon campaign rally, July 1968
Vice President Hubert Humphrey, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and General Creighton Abrams in a Cabinet Room meeting in March 1968
Results by congressional district.
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Results by county, shaded according to winning candidate's percentage of the vote
Presidential election results by county
Republican presidential election results by county
Democratic presidential election results by county
American Independent presidential election results by county
"Other" presidential election results by county
Cartogram of presidential election results by county
Cartogram of Republican presidential election results by county
Cartogram of Democratic presidential election results by county
Cartogram of American Independent presidential election results by county
Cartogram of "Other" presidential election results by county
Statewide contest by winner: Red = Kennedy, Orange = Smathers, Yellow = Young, Green = Johnson, Blue = McCarthy, Grey = No primary
Robert Kennedy
George Smathers
Stephen Young
Lyndon Johnson
Eugene McCarthy
No primary
Pigasus, a satirical Presidential candidate nominated by the Youth International Party

Nixon developed a "Southern strategy" that was designed to appeal to conservative white southerners, who had traditionally voted Democratic, but were opposed to Johnson and Humphrey's support for the civil rights movement, as well as the rioting that had broken out in the ghettos of most large cities.

Thurmond in 1961

Strom Thurmond

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American politician, military officer, and attorney who represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 to 2003.

American politician, military officer, and attorney who represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 to 2003.

Thurmond in 1961
Strom Thurmond as Governor
Statue of Thurmond outside the South Carolina State Capitol
Thurmond & Yarborough after the wrestling match
Thurmond with President Richard Nixon in 1969
Thurmond (far right) campaigning for Ronald Reagan in Columbia, South Carolina in 1980
Margaret Thatcher and Thurmond at a state dinner in 1981
Thurmond and Vice President George H. W. Bush at a 1986 gubernatorial campaign rally for Representative Carroll A. Campbell Jr.
President Ronald Reagan with Thurmond in the Oval Office in 1987
Thurmond during his later career
In the text accompanying Strom Thurmond's statue at the Statehouse grounds, the phrase: "The father of four children," had the "four" replaced with "five" after Thurmond's fatherhood of Essie Mae Washington-Williams became public.
The Thurmond family with President Gerald Ford in 1976
President George W. Bush with Thurmond on his 100th birthday in 2002
Bust of Thurmond by Frederick E. Hart, held by the U.S. Senate
Thurmond receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush, 1993

It has been argued that Thurmond's backing of Nixon in the 1968 election served as the basis for the Southern strategy, with former Thurmond aide Lee Atwater admitting that the race served as the "blueprint for everything" he did in subsequent elections.

Senate portrait, 1960

Barry Goldwater

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American politician and United States Air Force officer who was a five-term Senator from Arizona (1953–1965, 1969–1987) and the Republican Party nominee for president of the United States in 1964.

American politician and United States Air Force officer who was a five-term Senator from Arizona (1953–1965, 1969–1987) and the Republican Party nominee for president of the United States in 1964.

Senate portrait, 1960
Major General Barry M. Goldwater in his United States Air Force uniform
Major General Barry M. Goldwater in his office at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C. in January 1967
Major General Barry M. Goldwater piloting a Convair F-102 Delta Dagger in 1967
President Lyndon B. Johnson with Senator Goldwater, January 16, 1964
Ronald Reagan speaks for presidential candidate Goldwater in Los Angeles, 1964
Presidential election results by state
Goldwater meets with President Ronald Reagan in the oval office, 1984
President Ronald Reagan and Senator Goldwater award retired General Jimmy Doolittle, USAFR, with a fourth star, April 10, 1985
Informal press conference August 7, 1974 (one day before Nixon announced his resignation) following a meeting between Goldwater, Senate Minority Leader Scott, House Minority Leader Rhodes and the President to discuss the Watergate scandal and impeachment process
Signing autographs at the Fiesta Bowl parade in 1983
Most of the kachina dolls at the Heard Museum were donated by Goldwater
The Goldwater Crypt#64
Barry M. Goldwater Terminal 4 entrance at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Barry Goldwater statue in National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.
The Barry Goldwater Memorial Park

All this appealed to white Southern Democrats, and Goldwater was the first Republican to win the electoral votes of all of the Deep South states (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) since Reconstruction.

Atwater in 1983

Lee Atwater

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American political consultant and strategist for the Republican Party.

American political consultant and strategist for the Republican Party.

Atwater in 1983
Atwater talking with Lyn Nofziger in Nofziger's office in the White House on January 21, 1982
Atwater with James Brown in 1981
President Ronald Reagan during a trip via Air Force One to Alabama with Lee Atwater and Stu Spencer on October 15, 1984
Atwater with the Bush family on Election Night 1988
Lee Atwater "jams" with President George H. W. Bush at Inaugural festivity on January 21, 1989
Atwater performing at the inauguration of George H. W. Bush in 1989
Atwater and his wife, Sally, with President Ronald Reagan and his wife, First Lady Nancy Reagan in 1984
Atwater greeting President George H. W. Bush in 1990

Atwater aroused controversy through his aggressive campaign tactics, especially the Southern strategy.

Barry Goldwater 1964 presidential campaign

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The 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater began when United States Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona elected to seek the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States to challenge incumbent Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater began when United States Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona elected to seek the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States to challenge incumbent Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Senator Barry M. Goldwater, 1962.
Suite 3505 of the Chanin Building in New York City served as the headquarters of a twenty-two member committee of Republicans working to secure the nomination of a conservative in 1964.
A group of "Goldwater Girls" attending a Convention Platform Committee meeting
William E. Miller was selected as Goldwater's running mate
Goldwater-Miller general election campaign logo.
Then Congressman Gerald Ford (left) and then Former Vice President Richard Nixon campaign for Goldwater in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Goldwater, again a U.S. Senator, in 1986.
Republican primary results, 1964. Key: No primary held
John W. Byrnes
Barry Goldwater
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
James A. Rhodes
Nelson Rockefeller
William W. Scranton
1964 election results by county.Lyndon B. Johnson
Barry M. Goldwater
Unpledged electors

The group also laid the foundation for the Southern strategy by essentially creating the Republican parties of the Deep South and overthrowing the Democratic patronage system.