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Morning Jay: Special "Southern Politics in 2010" Edition!

6:30 AM, Oct 13, 2010 • By JAY COST
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So, the South has a racial divide that depends largely upon ideology, and this has a great impact on the congressional races in the region.  African Americans were almost entirely concentrated in the South until about World War I, at which point they began a 40-year process of migration into Northern cities, often referred to as the Great Migration.  Today, African Americans in the North tend to be concentrated in geographically small, majority-minority congressional districts in the big urban centers.  But that’s really not the case for most of the South, where the African American population is more rural, more spread out, and more intermingled with the white population, at least in terms of congressional districts.

The following map, courtesy of the National Atlas, shows the distribution of African Americans per county.  Yellow districts show a large concentration, red districts show a small concentration.

What you see here is a semi-circle that essentially runs from southeastern Virginia, south through the Carolinas and into Georgia, then west through Alabama and Mississippi, and finally north along the Mississippi River to Memphis, Tennessee.  This area is often referred to as the “Black Belt,” in reference not only to the racial makeup of these counties, but also the rich, black soil that was amenable to growing cotton.  In fact, you can see the correlation between these heavily African American counties and the production of cotton (in green in this pic):

So now you have a basic idea of the racial dynamic in the South.  How does this affect the congressional elections?

To answer that question, I’ve recreated the methodology I used for the Great Lakes states yesterday.  The following is a map of congressional districts for the South.  Red districts are Republican, blue districts are safely Democratic, and purple districts are those held by Democrats but that are vulnerable, according to RealClearPolitics

If you study this map closely for a minute, you’ll see a pattern that basically tracks the Black Belt.  Congressional districts that hug the Atlantic Coast by and large are safely Republican.  Meanwhile, districts that are to the north or west of the Black Belt are also safely Republican.  The purple and blue districts generally fall inside the Black Belt, with the notable exception of Atlanta. 

Most of the Democrats in the purple districts hold their seats by maintaining some kind of multi-racial voting coalition.  Consider, for instance, Bobby Bright in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional district, in the southeastern corner of the state.  Barack Obama won about 108,000 votes there in 2008, which came largely from African Americans (who comprise about 31% of the district), while Bobby Bright won about 144,000 votes.  So, Bright’s voting coalition included something like 25% to 40% of the white vote, with a big crossover white vote from McCain to Bright.  Other Democrats, like Jim Marshall in GA-8, in the south-central part of Georgia, brought even more whites into their coalitions.   

Democrats like Bright and Marshall have three serious problems this cycle. 

First, African American turnout tends to drop in midterm elections, and it will probably drop an unusually large amount in 2010 (because it was unusually high in 2008).  Fewer African American voters mean that these Democrats have to pick up more votes among whites. 

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