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Interesting Tidbit on Racism and Reagan's 1980 Victory:

One reads quite often that Reagan successfully captured the southern Wallace/anti-civil rights/racist vote, thus forever tainting his victory with the stench of racism. So I was surprised to read that white voters over sixty in the eleven ex-Confederate states gave Carter a small plurality of their votes, a greater percentage for Carter than he received among such voters elsewhere in the country. Meanwhile, Reagan received overwhelming support from 18-39 year old white southerners. Bruce J. Shulman, From Cotton Belt to Sun Belt 215 (1994). Unless one wants to defend the proposition that the over-sixties were less racist than their much younger counterparts, the standard narrative seems incomplete at best.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, some commenters below raise the issue of a speech Reagan gave in July 1980, that has been portrayed as "Reagan launching his campaign in Philadelphia Mississippi where three civil rights workers were killed with an overt appeal to southern racism by declaring his fealty to states' rights." As I've explained previously, this is an inaccurate representation of what happened.

In fact, the speech wasn't in, but near, Philadelphia, at a state fair that many other candidates, including Michael Dukakis, have attended. The speech didn't "launch" his campaign as it the timing was understood at the time (when campaigns weren't "launched" until Labor Day), and the reference to "states' rights" was a fleeting (but foolish) reference in an entirely non-racial context.

Here's what I think is an accurate portrayal of the event:

"in the downtime between the Republican and Democratic conventions, Reagan was desperately at this time seeking to attract some black votes in the North, while some of his advisers held out hope of winning some southern states. Some of his campaign advisers were savvy enough to realize that the Mississippi speech would create problems for the first goal. .... Indeed, instead of "Reagan deliberately spoke in racist code to pursue a southern strategy" it's more like "Reagan stupidly undermined his own campaign strategy through an ill-conceived reference to 'states rights' just before a major speech to the Urban League."

You can listen to the speech for yourself here. The audio of the speech wasn't discovered until January 2007, which gave plenty of time for myths about its content to circulate.

In any event, if Reagan was trying to make appeals to southern racists, the voting data above still suggests that a very large percentage of them voted for Carter nevertheless.

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