Late last month, a group of political scientists conducted a study suggesting that the reason why Obama polled terribly with whites in Southern states is because of the echoes of slavery and racism in that region.
The political scientists, Avidit Scharaya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen focused upon was what’s known as the “Black Belt,” or “Cotton Belt.” The region extends from the Mississippi Delta down to southern Georgia, which was the epicenter of cotton-farming and slavery in the mid-1800s.
The group hypothesizes that “the larger the number of slaves in his or her county of residence in 1860, the greater probability that a white Southerner today will identify as a Republican, . . . and express greater racial resentment towards African Americans.”
In the study, they point out that “whites of the Black Belt are particularly prominent in Southern politics and are more conservative than whites elsewhere in the South.”
They took a sample population of 39,000 southern whites and found some interesting results. In swing states, Obama trailed Romney by only 4-8 points among white working class voters. However, in the South, Obama was behind Mitt Romney by a staggering 40 points, comparatively. But after 150 years of emancipation, how have these echoes of slavery and racial hostility reverberated through the decades?
The study asserts the main reason is the African American population’s increase in these regions. The group contends that “the localized prevalence [of] slavery directly led to high concentration[s] of blacks in the modern-day South, which, according to the theory of racial threat, would cause whites’ views to veer toward the more racially hostile.” It’s a classic “you’re in the wrong part of town” syndrome. Whites who are racist naturally support segregation, and the growing integration of the races builds animosity.
If the study is any indicator, change in the American socio-political landscape is isn’t an instantly transformative one. Even 150 years after the 13th Amendment was added to the Constitution, race relations are still tense, and will need more time to smooth out as they already have when compared to the turbulence of the slave days, to the civil rights movement, to now.