What evidence is there of a Democratic-Republican party realignment during the 1950's in the US?

Usually, references to the Southern strategy are made, but I haven't been able to find any peer review or historical accounts that there was an inversion in beliefs (Conservatism vs Liberalism) in the literature so far.

Can authoritative references be provided to corroborate or disprove this claim?

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    Your question uses the phrase "party realignment" but your second paragraph references "inversion in beliefs". These are not at all equivalent; which are you asking about? Dec 31, 2019 at 12:07
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    My impression is that this swap began roughly 1920 and continued through roughly 1975. It wasn't a single event, and different policies "swapped sides" at different times.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 31, 2019 at 18:59
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    Is advice from peer-reviewed journals the only knowledge that's worthy of your attention?
    – user285
    Dec 31, 2019 at 23:03

1 Answer 1


Links to some scholarly analysis on the topic at the bottom

The first thing to understand when addressing this topic is that our political parties are not monolithic organizations with a single set of beliefs.

In some political systems there are many parties with more specific ideals, and in order to reach a majority to gain control it often requires two or more parties negotiating to form a coalition after an election.

In the US winner-take-all system, the coalitions are already pre-existing before election day. The two major parties are themselves huge coalitions of different voting blocks and interest groups that almost certainly don't all agree on everything.

So when we discuss the party shift/swap/realignment, the claim is not that everyone in both parties changed their minds about all the issues or immediately went out and changed their party registration.

The facts are that the existing voting coalitions of the early 20th century broke down over the course of the century and then reformed with certain blocks with opposing views having ended up swapped between them.

This is trivially easy for even the most casual observer to witness just from looking at the most narrow extremes. The KKK was initially formed by primarily Democratic party members, and had a lot of sway in Democrat-dominated southern politics after the Civil War. But in the current era, they (and similar groups) are some of the most reliably pro-Republican and anti-Democratic voices in the country.

In the larger picture, one of the major coalition changes that occurred was black voters gradually shifting towards the Democratic party (roughly 85-95% of black voters now vote Democrat in presidential elections), while southern rural white voters shifted to the Republican party over the same period. This is often simplified down to Johnson (a southern Democrat) signing the Civil Rights Act, and Nixon's opportunistic 'southern strategy' of dog-whistling economic policies that would disproportionately hurt African-Americans.

At the same time, the broader economic leanings of the two parties did not dramatically change (though between elections there have certainly been shifts on certain issues and the extents to which they lean one way or the other). But the Republicans traditionally leaned in favor of big business. The Democrats traditionally leaned more in favor of labor.

So the entire parties did not 'swap' per say, but there were large shifts in their coalitions that dramatically changed their overall party platforms on certain issues.

The common Republican retort to the realities of black voting patterns is usually that the now primarily Democrat voting African-Americans have been somehow 'trapped in a plantation mindset' and just don't know what is best for themselves, or something similarly infantilizing. But of course this is exactly the same sort of dehumanizing rhetoric dripping with racial superiority that the early 20th century Dixiecrats would have used to explain former slaves supporting Republicans after the Civil War.

Detailed analysis of gallup polling data from the mid 20th century

An analysis of election data from the beginning and ends of the 20th century

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    The last paragraph is massively hypocritical, because Democrats also play the "plantation mindset" game when black people vote Republican: snopes.com/fact-check/joe-biden-put-yall-back-in-chains Dec 31, 2019 at 20:57
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    "In the larger picture, one of the major coalition changes that occurred was black voters gradually shifting towards the Democratic party (roughly 85-95% of black voters now vote Democrat in presidential elections)" A large portion of black voters suddenly started voted for explicitly racist Democrats in the depression era, in large numbers, for the New Deal benefits (presumably out of desperation and hard times). 70% of Black Voters were Democrats by 1936, decades before Nixon's campaign. Oh, and during Nixon's campaign, 20% of Black voters voted Nixon, thinking of him as a moderate.
    – Jamin Grey
    Jan 1, 2020 at 0:43
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    "while southern rural white voters shifted to the Republican party over the same period." It wasn't until the 1970's that the South started voting Republican, and gradually gained steam until the 1990's. Areas that switched to Republican first were predominantly urban and industrial, not backwood "deep south" areas, which switched last. Some have drawn comparisons to the gradual growth of Republicanism in the South with prior generations dying out, and their children voting differently - but that's speculation. What's not speculation is, no, they didn't happen over the same period.
    – Jamin Grey
    Jan 1, 2020 at 0:46

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