Readers of Facing South know that we question widely-made claims that the South is a monolithic bastion of conservatism. Left-leaning pundits find it convenient to single out the South as the chief enemy of their agenda, but it's a simplistic view which ignores both the South's progressive currents as well as the deep conservatism of regions like The Great Plains.After all, weren't the three states where President Obama did worst in 2008 Idaho, Utah and Wyoming? And isn't the Democrat who's done the most to torpedo the Democratic health plan Sen. Max Bacus from Montana?
A new poll from Gallup re-affirms that the South has no special hold on conservatism. In their annual survey on political ideology, four Southern states ranked among the top 10 where the most people said they were "conservative."
But just as important, six didn't come from the South -- they are states in the Great Plains and upper Mountain West:
The poll's simplistic approach -- you're either "liberal" or "conservative" -- obviously doesn't go very deep. Where, for example, do people who are culturally conservative but economically progressive -- often called populists -- fit on that one-dimensional matrix?
But Gallup's findings do underscore a key point: the lingering importance of race. The Southern states that rank as the most conservative are also those with the highest African-American population:
RANK, AFRICAN-AMERICAN POPULATION BY STATE
1 - District of Columbia: 57.2%
2 - Mississippi: 35.6%
3 - Louisiana: 31.6%
4 - South Carolina: 28.3%
5 - Georgia: 27.2%
6 - Maryland: 26.7%
7 - Alabama: 25.4%
As many political scientists have noted, the strength of white conservatism in the South is closely correlated with high African-American populations, a lingering product of racism and racial division.
So the kind of conservatism one sees in the South is different than the kind found in the Great Plains and Mountain West, which have a much whiter composition.
But the interesting long-term question is: Are the demographics that are driving growth in Southern states -- more immigrants, more in-migration, growing urban centers -- the kind that will make the region less "conservative?"