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The South, in United States terminology, is roughly identified as the eleven states that made up the Confederate States of America: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina. It roughly overlaps with the Bible Belt. The US Census currently defines the South as the above-listed states, as well as Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. Persons from the deep South (conventionally Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana, as well as the Florida panhandle and Texas by some definitions) may regard some or all of the other "Southern" states as, well, not so Southern, though, so context matters.
One analysis of self-defined terms associated with The South found these to be most frequent in descending order: antebellum, plantations, alligators, dolphins, hurricanes, armadillos, stilts, Baptists, Redfish, y'all, Elvis, Confederate, shrimp, gameday, and Appalachian. The two most frequent terms, antebellum and plantations, are directly associated with slavery and the Confederacy. Under this analysis, the core states were: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. Peripheral regions were Florida, West Virginia, Texas, and the District of Columbia.
Although/because the South fought to secede from the Union during the
Lost Cause American Civil War of 1861-1865, as of 2016 its inhabitants are known as much any other region for their patriotism and commitment to morality in government (although their often simultaneous waving of the US flag with what people think of as the Confederate flag might suggest instead that their patriotism is negotiable). Depending on who you ask, they might even be more patriotic and moral.[note 1]
From the end of the Civil War to the 1960 election, the "Solid South", as political pundits called it, nearly always supported Democratic candidates. Since 1964, the South has become increasingly important to Presidential victors.
1964 to 1992
The Solid South began to break down in the 1964 election, when five southern states voted for Republican Barry Goldwater. The largest, and President Johnson's home state, Texas, remained Democratic. In 1968, Richard Nixon carried Florida, and the Carolinas, while an Independent, George Wallace, carried the rest, with the exception of Texas, which remained Democratic. Former Democratic Gov. George Wallace commenting on his 1968 Presidential bid declared that by using a base of electoral votes in the Solid South  and adding a few Northern and Midwestern industrial belt states, a candidate could accumulate enough electoral votes to win. Wallace did not win in 1968, but by 1972, winning candidates Richard Nixon (1972), Ronald Reagan (1984), and George H.W. Bush (1988) carried every southern state. The exception to this was Reagan's election in 1980 when he carried every southern state except incumbent President Jimmy Carter's home state of Georgia.
1992 to 2020
In 1992 Democratic candidate Bill Clinton reassembled Carter's coalition and carried Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, West Virginia, and Georgia in 1992, but lost Georgia in 1996. George W. Bush (2000 and 2004) carried every Southern state including 2000 Democratic candidate and incumbent Vice President Al Gore's home state of Tennessee, which in an incredibly tight election probably cost Gore the presidency.
In 2008, there were new defections from the South back to the Democrats, as North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia went for Barack Obama, with the rest of the South going to John McCain. Both Florida and Virginia are now considered to be at least somewhat "purple" states, however Florida demographically does not resemble a typical southern state all that much and Virginia has always been rather on the "edge" of the South geographically and politically, with many Washington DC exurbs situated within Virginia able to sway elections. Changing demographics also play a role as the old Cuban Americans that used to be an important factor in Florida politics who voted anti-Castro in every election are dying and more non-Cuban Latinos move to Florida. In Virginia and possibly also other states, African Americans can also tilt the scale towards Democrats if turnout is high enough as it was in 2008 when an African American ran for the Democratic Party.
During the next decade, Virginia became considerably bluer, to the point where as of 2020 Democrats now control the governorship, both state houses, both Senate seats, and 7 out of 11 House seats. North Carolina and Florida have stayed very slightly red, although Democrats have had some success in local elections in the former state. The big defection was Georgia. As a result of the growth of the Atlanta metro area, a rapidly diversifying population, and the efforts of organizers such as Stacy Abrams led to the state becoming considerably more favorable to Democrats. After Donald Trump won Georgia in 2016 by a considerably narrower margin than Mitt Romney had four years earlier, many Democrats saw their opportunity. Two years later, the aforementioned Abrams went within less than two points of becoming governor, and two years after that, Joe Biden narrowly managed to win the state. What's more, Democrats won both Senate runoff elections, proving that their victory in Georgia was not a fluke. Another southern state that has seemingly gotten bluer is Texas. After Romney won Texas by 16 points in 2012, Trump only won it by only nine points in 2016 and by only about five and a half points in 2020. Like in Georgia, the growth in metropolitan areas and minority populations is helping Democrats in Texas, but the presence of Ted Cruz in Congress suggests that there is still a long way to go.
Large numbers of southerners have served in the U.S. military. During the Civil War southerners did not volunteer in large enough numbers to match the military needs of the South. Approximately twenty percent of all Confederate soldiers were therefore draftees (compared to eight percent in the Union armies), and they were subject to “compulsory reenlistment.”
The South continues to lag behind the rest of the United States in terms of academics. Some of this has been attributed to poverty, but much of it is the result of a conservative voting base that is unwilling to support public education. Distance also played a major role as many were farmers and were separated by many miles of distance meaning that school would have been hard for many to attend or they were just too lazy to learn
, just like many kids.
- See Jesusland.
- Data reveals what really defines the American South: Hundreds of thousands of Airbnb listings allowed us to map and calculate how the American South describes itself by Andrew Van Dam (August 5, 2022 at 6:00 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
- 1968 Electoral Distribution
- Tinadall & Shi, America: A Narrative History, 7th ed.(New York Norton, 2007):616-618.