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A brief history of white working-class voters in America: Between 1932 and 1964, they were diehard Democrats, core constituents of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Lyndon B. Johnson severed that bond when he committed his noblest deed in signing the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. “I think we’ve just delivered the South to the Republican Party for the rest of my life and yours,” Johnson told his aide Bill Moyers.
George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, began fulfilling Johnson’s prophecy when he led Southern whites out of the Democratic Party. Wallace formed the American Independent Party, which took five Southern states and helped deliver the White House to Richard Nixon in 1968—incidentally, the last time a third party carried any state in a U.S. presidential election. Wallace’s Southern voters and their Northern brethren increasingly supported Republicans thereafter, becoming a pillar of the Reagan coalition in the 1980s.
Now a version of that old split has emerged on the right. The Reagan Democrats have become the Trump Republicans, and signs point once again to a breach with the party they have reflexively supported for decades. At one level, the cause is the same as in 1964: reaction against social change that has eroded the value of white privilege. But at another level, this is a revolt by Republican voters who no longer believe that their party supports their basic economic interests.
- Factions in the Democratic Party.
- Factions in the Republican Party.