James C. Cobb: Party Identity Is Crucial

Roundup: Historians' Take

James C. Cobb, a professor of history at the University of Georgia, is the author, most recently, of "The South and America Since World War II."

The fundamental explanation for the strong Republican support among working-class white Southerners is the striking disconnect between rural, overwhelmingly nonunion, Southern white workers and the national Democratic Party’s union-centric approach to labor issues.

This makes it easier for blue-collar Southern whites to convince themselves (with the eager assistance of Republican politicos) that the primary aim of Democratic initiatives like federal worker-training programs was or is to put black people in a position to take their jobs. Even if there is little reason to think the G.O.P. might actually help working-class white Southerners, they know at least that the Republicans are infinitely less likely to do anything to help blacks....

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