Southern counties with highest prevalence of slavery historically more likely to vote Republican, study shows

The study analyzed data from the 19th century up to the 2010s, evaluating over 40,000 white Southerners

Published March 8, 2016 4:05PM (EST)

Donald Trump (AP)
Donald Trump (AP)

A study to be published in the Journal of Politics suggests that counties in the South that had a larger prevalence of slavery are more likely to vote Republican today.

The study — conducted by political scientists Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen — analyzed historical and survey data from the 19th century up to the 2010s, evaluating over 40,000 white Southerners, on how their political attitudes vary from county to county that had more slaves in the 1860s. The result: There is a strong connection.

"In areas that had higher slavery in the 1860s, those areas have whites living there today that are more conservative overall," Blackwell told Vox. "They're more likely to identify with the Republican Party. And they're also more conservative on what we might call race-related issues — things like affirmative action and measures from psychology and political science that are designed to figure out what people sometimes call racial resentment."

For some, the findings reiterate something that is already widely known: the "Southern strategy.” Republican politicians have after all, for decades tapped into many white Southerners' racism to engage voter support, using coded language such as "thug" and "superpredator" to amp up white Americans' racial fears. But the paper manages to provide more insight into not only how, but why the strategy is used.

In 2012, Pew Research Center data found that Republicans are more likely to hold racist attitudes. The survey showed 18 percent of Republicans didn’t favor black and white couples, compared to 5 percent of Democrats. Another study found that the Ku Klux Klan played a small but consequential capacity in shifting Southerners' support to Republicans after the civil rights movement.

By Antoaneta Roussi

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