Posted on November 26, 2012

Republicans Face Unexpected Challenges in Coastal South Amid Shrinking White Vote

Douglas Blackmon, Washington Post, November 24, 2012

Late on election night, a small melee erupted at the University of Mississippi here when a group of white students frustrated by the reelection of President Obama marched outside and began shouting racial slurs at African American students. Several hundred people gathered to watch as two white students were arrested.


Yet even as that incident evoked ugly memories of an earlier era, Election Day in the South told a newer and more surprising story: The nation’s first black president finished more strongly in the region than any other Democratic nominee in three decades, underscoring a fresh challenge for Republicans who rely on Southern whites as their base of national support.

Obama won Virginia and Florida and narrowly missed victory in North Carolina. But he also polled as well in Georgia as any Democrat since Jimmy Carter, grabbed 44 percent of the vote in deep-red South Carolina and just under that in Mississippi — despite doing no substantive campaigning in any of those states.


The results show a region cleaving apart along new electoral fault lines. In the region’s center, clustered along the Mississippi River — where Bill Clinton polled most strongly — the GOP remains largely unchallenged and the voting divide between blacks and whites is deepening. Nearly nine of 10 of white voters in Mississippi, for instance, went for Republican nominee Mitt Romney this year, according to exit polls. About 96 percent of black voters in the state supported Obama.

The pattern is markedly different in the five states that hug the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Florida, which together hold 82 of the South’s 160 electoral votes. A combination of a growing black population, urban expansion, oceanfront development and in-migration from other regions has opened up increasing opportunities for Democrats in those states.

“Georgia is an achievable target for Democrats in 2016,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a frequent Obama surrogate during the campaign. {snip}


In every Southern state except Louisiana, the population of African Americans grew substantially faster than that of whites over the past decade. The growth is fueled by black retirees from the north and rising numbers of young, well-educated blacks in prosperous cities such as Atlanta, Norfolk, Charlotte and Charleston, S.C.

The influx also includes fast-growing, but smaller, Hispanic populations and an infusion of less-conservative outsiders attracted to popular coastal areas. Together, the shifts are making the electoral landscape from Virginia and the Carolinas look increasingly like the swing state of Florida.


The proportion of white voters in the South is also shrinking. Southern whites voted overwhelmingly for Romney, but in six Southern states, far fewer of them appear to have gone to the polls on Nov. 6 than the number who voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.

In Florida, the share of votes cast by whites this year fell to 66 percent, down from 73 percent in 2000. In Georgia, the number of white voters declined while African American registration increased nearly 6 percent and Hispanic voters grew by 36 percent.

“Republicans can focus all they want on Hispanics,” said John Anzalone, a Montgomery, Ala., pollster who helped analyze swing states for the Obama campaign. “But they also have a problem with whites, in this election cycle, just showing up.”

Many Republican leaders in the South say the lower turnout by whites in some areas simply reflected lower enthusiasm for Romney as a candidate, and doesn’t signal a longer term decline in GOP strength.