slave population map 1860
The slave population, shown in the above map based on the 1860 census, was concentrated in counties where cotton plantations dominated the local economy. Whites in these areas today express more racial resentment and are more likely to vote Republican and oppose affirmative action than other Southerners, a new study finds. (Map from "The Political Legacy of American Slavery.")

How slavery continues to shape Southern politics

Whites who live in areas of the South once dominated by the plantation economy and slavery are much more likely than other Southerners to express colder feelings toward African Americans, to oppose affirmative action, and to vote Republican.

Those are among the findings of a groundbreaking new study titled "The Political Legacy of American Slavery" by a team of political scientists from the University of Rochester in New York. It was based on a county-by-county analysis of census data and opinion polls of more than 39,000 Southern whites.

"Slavery does not explain all forms of current day racism," says Avidit Acharya, who conducted the study along with Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen. "But the data clearly demonstrates that the legacy of the plantation economy and its reliance on the forced labor of African Americans continues to exacerbate racial bias in the Deep South."

To explain their results, the authors theorize that Southern whites -- faced with having their political and economic power undermined by emancipation -- had incentive to propagate racist violence, institutions and norms in parts of the region like the so-called "Black Belt" or "Cotton Belt" that had high numbers of freed slaves in the decades after 1865.

"We argue that these attitudes have, to some degree, been passed down locally from one generation to the next," they write.

The researchers looked at data from 93 percent of the 1,344 Southern counties in the Black Belt where plantations dominated the economy from the late 1700s into the early 1900s. They found that a 20 percent increase in the percentage of slaves in a county's pre-Civil War population is associated today with a 3 percent decrease in whites who identify as Democrats and a 2.4 percent decrease in the number of whites who support affirmative action.

What they call the "slavery effect" accounts for up to a 15 percentage point difference in party affiliation today. About 30 percent of whites in former slave plantation areas report being Democrats, compared to 40 to 45 percent of whites in counties where slaves made up less than 3 percent of the population.

The researchers considered whether there could be alternative explanations for their findings. For example, they looked at whether whites who live around larger black populations have more negative racial attitudes -- what's known as the "theory of racial threat." But they found that share of black population actually predicts warmer attitudes toward blacks among whites once slavery is accounted for.

They also considered whether what they found was related to slavery being more prevalent in rural areas, which tend to be more conservative than urban areas, or whether it had something to do with Civil War destruction, or with whites holding particular racial attitudes migrating to areas with others of like mind. But again, those hypotheses did not hold up to scrutiny.

The study also compared Southern counties with very few slaves in 1860 to non-Southern counties with no slaves in the same period. It found very little difference.

"Thus, in the absence of localized slavery, it appears that the South would have had a distribution of present-day political beliefs indistinguishable from comparable parts of the North," the authors write. "This provides evidence that the effect that we see comes primarily from the local presence of many slaves, rather than state laws permitting the ownership of slaves."

The researchers point to an emerging literature showing that the legacy of slavery can be observed today in other contexts internationally -- from lower levels of household consumption and childhood growth in areas of Peru and Bolivia where people were subject to forced labor, to higher poverty, reduced school enrollment and lower vaccination rates in parts of Colombia where gold was mined by slaves.

The authors will present their findings at the Politics of Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity Consortium at the University of California at Riverside on Sept. 27.

"In political circles, the South's political conservatism is often credited to 'Southern exceptionalism,'" says Blackwell. "But the data shows that such modern-day political differences primarily rise from the historical presence of many slaves."

Image: 
The slave population, shown in the above map based on the 1860 census, was concentrated in counties where cotton plantations dominated the local economy. Whites in these areas today express more racial resentment and are more likely to vote Republican and oppose affirmative action than other Southerners, a new study finds. (Map from "The Political Legacy of American Slavery.")
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Thank you

Another balanced, intelligent story. Thank you.

Liberal idiot alert!

So being against affirmative action equates with racism? Also... "But the data clearly demonstrates that the legacy of the plantation economy and its reliance on the forced labor of African Americans continues to exacerbate racial bias in the Deep South." ..Nonsense, what may exacerbate any racial bias would be the simple fact that 3% of the nations population, namely black males under age 30 commit 50% of all violence crime, add to that the simple fact that whites are leaving the large cities of the North and moving south to escape the out of control crime in the large cities such as Detroit, and Chicago which is mostly due to the current black "thug" culture of criminality, immorality, and personal cowardice.

Racism much?

I bet that you don't recognize your own bigotry. Your fear and dislike of Blacks shows plainly.

What a pathetic excuse for

What a pathetic excuse for funding a major study...any non-pc person on the street will tell you that white people that have limited experience with blacks are not as concerned as those who live in an area with a majority black population. History has nothing to do with it...daily exposure to a culture that has the highest rate of illegitimate births, black-on-black murders, and a severe drug problem does. Until these issues are addressed, as well as the glorification of ignorance and allegiance to a black leadership composed of charlatans like sharpton and jackson, there will be no change of attitude..."groundbreaking," my ass.

You are such an idiot. Where

You are such an idiot. Where did you get your sociology degree, genius??? If you are white, then I am embarrassed to be associated with you in some way.

Uh...how stupid are you?

What a complete and utterly nonsensical study if I ever heard of one. Didn't they realize that just 50 years ago, All the counties in the south were almost 100% DEMOCRAT???

If anything, the study shows that the number of RACIST DEMOCRATS in the former slave holding counties has decreased FASTER than in the other areas.

Fella, you better get your facts straight. It was the Democrats who perpetuated racism in the South. Jim Crow Laws originated from the Democrats.

I am amazed at the complete short sightedness of the people who came out with the study and the reporter who didn't see this. It was Alabama Governor George Wallace a DEMOCRAT that stood in the schoolhouse doorway to prevent integration.

A few years earlier it was the REPUBLICAN President Eisenhower who sent in the army to stop the DEMOCRAT Arkansas Governor from preventing the black kids from attending the white school.

And as the generations past, the children saw the racist errors made by their elders and they became REPUBLICANS.

That, my friend is the real story of the South. That is the South that I grew up in and lived in almost all my life.

The study's conclusions are just...I'm sorry, such stupidity!

FYI...today's Republicans are

FYI...today's Republicans are the same as yesterday's Democrats and vice versa. The party realignment was because of southerner's racist attitudes and Jim Crow laws fought against during the Civil Rights Movement. I too have grown up in the South all my life. Please know your history if you want to participate in intellectual discussion about a topic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_strategy

you get your facts straight, bonehead

First of all, Democrats then are not Democrats now. There was a party switch in the 20th century when some Republicans moved to the Democratic party and Democrats moved to the Republican party.Duh! You didn't know that???
Plus, this is a study based on actual research, but then again people like you don't believe in science and probably believe in Noah's Ark to be a literal story that actually happened.

numbers don't make sense

This sentence puzzles me: "About 30 percent of whites in former slave plantation areas report being Democrats, compared to 40 to 45 percent of whites in counties where slaves made up less than 3 percent of the population."

Those percentages for Democrats seem very high to me, especially since Gallup numbers show that nationally only 12 percent of non-Hispanic whites who identify themselves as conservative identify themselves as Democrats. Can someone explain this??

I can explain it by looking

I can explain it by looking at election results. I will just look at the entire state of South Carolina, a slave state where 40% of African slaves were brought through SC ports, and the greatest concentration of slaves were kept for rice, cotton and indigo cultivation. In the 2010 SC Gubernatorial election, there were 1,358,548 total votes, 970989 white, and 387559 nonwhite. The Democratic candidate, Sheheen, received 630,534 votes. The Republican, Nikki Haley, 690,525 votes. The Green and United Citizens Party candidate African American businessman Morgan Bruce Reeves,received 20,114 total combined votes.

If 95% of nonwhite voters voted for Democrat Sheheen, that would be 368181 voters, leaving 262,353 white votes for Sheheen, or 27% of the white voters voting for the Democrat. There were probably more AA voters than 5% voting for Republican Haley, and no doubt some voting for the 3rd candidate. But even this conservative guesstimate would have more than a quarter of the white voters in a conservative slave state being Democrats, and that number is likely closer to the 30% number in the article that you reference.

I just chose that election randomly, but the results would closely resemble these in other election years. Statewide Republican candidates don't seem to receive more than 55% of the voter from year to year.

Just my observations. I am not an expert.

The answer you seek is within

The answer you seek is within the question you pose.

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