The Southern Strategy Myth

MYTH: The Southern Strategy is when Republicans used coded racism and racist tactics to win over racist white voters in the South. This racist strategy led to the South voting Republican. This strategy was championed by Republican figures, Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By slowing down desegregation, voting down civil rights bills, and making dog whistles to racists; Republicans were able to shift the South from Democrat to Republican.

REALITY: It’s an intriguing story, but it’s false. There are a lot of holes in the story that can’t be ignored. I will be debunking the idea that Republicans used coded racism and racist tactics to win the South. I will also be debunking that Republicans appealing to racism is what led to the Southern Realignment.

In reality, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the South continued to vote for Democrat governors, senators, and gubernatorial candidates for decades after the Civil Rights Act.

When the South finally did start voting Republican, It appears they did so for economic and religious reasons, not racist ones.

This view is supported by the works of Professor Byron E. Shafer, Professor Richard Johnston, Senior Elections Analyst Sean P. Trende, Professor Bruce Bartlett, Professor Matthew Lassiter, Political Scientist Nelson W. Polsby, and more.

Byron Schaefer and Richard Johnston used election and polling data to show that the increasing Republicanism of the South has been primarily a response to the vast economic change in the region since 1948. They documented their findings in their book “The End of Southern Exceptionalism”.

This is further confirmed by Sean Trende. Sean Trende is a senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. Sean Trende used election and polling data to show that the gradual realignment of the South had already been going on for nearly forty years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The shift was most likely caused by economic and religious reasons. According to Sean Trende, “Did race still have something to do with it? Almost certainly. But you also can’t ignore that the South was by that point aligned with the national Republican Party on a wide expanse of issues relating to taxes, anti-communism, school prayer, abortion, the counterculture, Vietnam . . . and the list goes on. Chalking everything up to the Civil Rights Act is overly simplistic, to the point of being incorrect.”

He also said, “It’s impossible to separate race and economics anywhere in the country, perhaps least of all in the South. But the inescapable truth is that the GOP was making its greatest gains in the South while it was also pushing a pro-civil rights agenda nationally. What was driving the GOP at this time was economic development. As Southern cities continued to develop and sprout suburbs, Southern exceptionalism was eroded; Southern whites simply became wealthy enough to start voting Republican.”

According to Professor and Historian Bruce Bartlett, “While there is no question that Nixon coveted the votes of conservative Southerners, he was hardly the first Republican to do so. The eventual migration of Southern Democrats into the GOP had more to do with deep economic, demographic, and political forces that had been in operation for decades.”

Professor Matthew Lassiter argues that coded racism cannot explain the GOP shift in the South. According to Lassiter, “political scientists and historians point out that the timing does not fit the “Southern Strategy” model. Nixon carried 49 states in 1972, so he operated a successful national rather than regional strategy. But the Republican Party remained quite weak at the local and state level across the entire South for decades.”


In addition, the South became more Republican as it became less racist. According to a Gallup poll, from the 1950s to the 1990s, the portion of white Southerners who said they would be willing to vote for a black president increased from 8% to 95%.

Evangelicals in the South have repented for their old was. Evangelical churches conducted racial reconciliation meetings between the 1990s to today; where they declared racism a sin. Southern Baptists have repeatedly apologized for their role in American slavery — most recently in 2018 via a document outlining their role.

At the height of the KKK, there were millions of members, mostly in the South. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, As of 2015, the KKKs membership numbered between 5,000 to 9,000. Going from millions to thousands is a significant decrease.

This all took place as the South was becoming more Republican.


Liberals claim that Barry Goldwater was the Republican who first implemented the Southern Strategy. They claim he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in an attempt to win support from racist white southerners. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to Mark K. Updegrove, a presidential historian, “On July 24, 1964, just over three months before Election Day, Goldwater visited the White House to privately talk to his opponent, President Lyndon B. Johnson. When he left, it was with a mutual promise not to exploit race for campaign purposes.”

Barry Goldwater condemned the KKK in 1964, during his apparent ‘Southern Strategy. Read the New York Times article dated Aug. 7, 1964, titled “Goldwater Bars Klan Aid; Confers With Eisenhower”

In his earlier years, Goldwater was an early member National Urban League Phoenix chapter. Goldwater even covered the group’s early operating deficits with his funds.

In addition, Barry Goldwater was a member of the NAACP and an active supporter of desegregation in Phoenix. Goldwater voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but reluctantly opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, believing one of its provisions (Title II of the CYA64) to be unconstitutional and a potential overreach of the federal government—a decision that considerably anguished him.

According to Mark K. Updegrove, “Goldwater went on to lose the 1964 election to Johnson by one of the biggest landslides in presidential history, but he did so with his dignity intact, knowing he hadn’t fanned the flames of bigotry.”

Liberals claim that Nixon implemented racist tactics. Nixon had a civil rights record that completely contradicts this liberal narrative.

According to Professor Dean J. Kotlowski—” Recently, the story of President Richard M. Nixon’s “southern strategy” and its relationship to school desegregation has become a ripe topic for historical revision. Ever wary of the shifty-eyed Nixon, contemporary critics argued that the president had retreated from civil rights to win the votes of conservative white southerners. Modifying this thesis, recent scholars have concluded that the president was neither a segregationist nor a conservative on the race question. These writers have shown that Nixon desegregated more schools than previous presidents, approved a strengthened Voting Rights Act, developed policies to aid minority businesses, and supported affirmative action.” (Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 October 2011).

What about coded racism through his rhetoric? Nixon’s speeches also contradict this liberal narrative as well.

Here are some examples—

I also call upon every American to note that the United Nations General Assembly has designated the year 1971 as the International Year for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. I hope that all Americans will join in observing this year, through deeds and words which promote a spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect among all people.” (Proclamation 4022—Bill of Rights Day, Human Rights Day December 07, 1970)

No more serious task challenges our nation domestically than the achievement of equality of opportunity for all our citizens in every aspect of their lives regardless of their race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. This includes the opportunity for all persons with full recognition of their dignity as individuals, to seek and achieve their highest potential and productivity in employment situations. Discrimination of any kind based on factors not relevant to job performance must be eradicated from Federal employment.” (Memorandum on Equal Employment Opportunity in the Federal Government August 08, 1969)

The Republican opportunity in the South is a golden one; but Republicans must not go prospecting for the fool’s gold of racist votes. Southern Republicans must not climb aboard the sinking ship of racial injustice. They should let Southern Democrats sink with it, as they have sailed with it. Any Republican victory that would come from courting racists, black or white, would be a defeat for our future in the South, and our party in the Nation. It would be a battle won in a lost cause. The Democratic Party in the South has ridden to power for a century on an annual tide of racist oratory. The Democratic Party runs with the hounds in the North and the hares in the South. The Republicans, as the South’s party of the future, should reject this hypocritical policy of the past. On this issue, it is time for both Republicans and Democrats to stop talking of what is smart politically and start talking of what is right morally.” (Nixon, Washington Post 1966 Op-ed)

What’s extremely important to highlight is that all of these speeches and writings were made public for the whole country to hear or see, including the racist.


The idea of the ‘Southern Strategy’ doesn’t even make sense. The conclusion is that the Republican party promoted civil rights and the Southern Realignment was caused by economics.

Liberal historians will surely cite other examples: Like the interview with Lee Atwater, who would have been in high school during the Nixon administration; or Ken Mehlman who would have been around 2 years old during the Nixon administration. Either one of those individuals wouldn’t have been a reliable source. In a later article, I will be covering any other additional arguments.


Trende, S. (2010, September 9). Misunderstanding the Southern Realignment . Real Clear Politics . Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Buchanan , P. (2014, July 4). Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ and a Liberal Big Lie . Real Clear Politics . Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

The End of Southern Exceptionalism – Byron E. Shafer, Richard Johnston. Harvard University Press. (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Raymond , K. (2011, July 7). The “Southern Strategy” is a lie. Pundit House . Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Shultz, G. P. (2003, April 30). How a Republican Desegregated the South’s Schools. Hoover Institution. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Kotlowski, D. J. (2011, October 14). Nixon’s southern strategy revisited: Journal of policy history. Cambridge Core. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Nixon’s Civil Rights – Dean J. Kotlowski. Harvard University Press. (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Schoen, D. E. (2016, May 16). Commentary: Nixon’s legacy in a new light. The Inquirer. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Bartlett, B. (2020, June 29). The western origins of the “Southern Strategy”. The New Republic. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Garneau, W. (2019, February 6). The myth of the ‘southern strategy’. The Daily Libertarian. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Sowell, T. (2016, March 22). The left’s racist past. National Review. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Alexander , G. (2010, September 12). Conservatism does not equal racism. so why do many Liberals assume it … American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved July 26, 2010, from

NPR. (2010, September 29). Op-ed: Conservatism does not equal racism. NPR. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Nordheimer, J. (1970, July 26). ‘Southern Strategy’ Seems Badly Dented. The New York Times. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

The New York Times. (1970, March 25). Text of the president’s statement explaining his policy on school desegregation. The New York Times. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Reed, R. (1970, August 15). Nixon reassures South on schools. The New York Times. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

The New York Times. (1970, June 23). Nixon statement on signing voting bill. The New York Times. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Knowles, B. (2011, October 3). Another liberal lie exposed: The myth of the southern strategy. Free Republic . Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

Statement on signing the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970 . The American Presidency Project. (1970, June 22). Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

O’Donnell, D. (2018, May 1). The myth of the Republican-democrat ‘switch’. News/Talk 1130 WISN. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

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  1. […] my article “The Southern Strategy Myth.” I use academic research, election data, surveys, and election speeches to debunk the […]

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