The Other Great Migration: Southern Whites and the New Right
This paper provides a novel perspective on the Great Migration out of the U.S. South. Using a shift-share identification strategy, we show how millions of Southern white migrants transformed the cultural and political landscape across America. Counties with a larger Southern white share by 1940 exhibited growing support for right-wing politics throughout the 20th century and beyond. Racial animus, religious conservatism, and localist attitudes among the Southern white diaspora hastened partisan realignment as the Republican Party found fresh support for the Southern strategy outside the South. Their congressional representatives were more likely to oppose politically liberal legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and to object to the Electoral College count in 2021. These migrants helped shape institutions that reinforced racial inequity and exclusion, they shared ideology through religious organizations and popular media, and they transmitted an array of cultural norms to non-Southern populations. Together, our findings suggest that Southern white migrants may have forever changed the trajectory of American politics.
We thank Taylor Jaworski, Maggie Jones, Ilyana Kuziemko, Marco Tabellini, Marianne Wanamaker, and participants at Harvard University, Peking University, SUNY Binghamton, Toulouse School of Economics, University of Bonn, University of Colorado Denver, and Yale University for valuable comments and feedback. Katarina Fedorov provided excellent research assistance. We are grateful to Jacob Whiton for providing us with data on the 2021 Electoral College count; to Paul Matzko for sharing his data on Carl McIntire’s radio program; to Matt Daniels and Simon Rogers for sharing their gastronomy data from Google News Lab; and to Leah Boustan, Matthew Kahn, Paul Rhode, and Maria Lucia Yanguas for sharing their natural disasters data. We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Russell Sage Foundation and the Initiative on Cities at Boston University. All errors are our own. This version replaces an earlier one with a slightly different title, “The Other Great Migration: White Southern Migrants and Right-wing Politics in the U.S.” The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.