New study reveals the KKK helped the Republican Party exploit racism to gain votes in the South.
A new study by the American Sociology Association with researchers from Notre Dame, Yale and Brandeis suggests that the Ku Klux Klan helped the Republican Party gain a lasting voting stronghold in the southern United States. In the wake of the growing Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s, the KKK had ramped up their organizing efforts.
The study crunched numbers for county-by-county vote totals in 10 southern states — Ark. La., Tenn., Miss., Ala., Ga., Fla., Va, and N.C. and S.C. — taking into account whether or not the Ku Klux Klan had established a chapter in those states.
Before 1960, the Southern Democrats had come to symbolize white supremacy in the US, as most of them were staunch supporters of racial segregation. By 1963, however, this had changed. Under President John F. Kennedy and then his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson — with pressure from Martin Luther King, Jr. — the Democratic Party embraced the Civil Rights Movement at the national level.
Indeed, Goldwater – who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the grounds that he perceived it as an unlawful affront to states’ rights as stipulated by the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution – knew that voters in the Republican Party would be viscerally opposed to any cause or idea the Democrats embraced. He thus devised the Southern Strategy of coded racist “dog whistles” to appeal to these voters. His rallying cry was:
“Extremism in pursuit of liberty is no vice, and tolerance in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
The support for Barry Goldwater in 1964 among white people in the South is also perhaps reflected in the tally of votes in favor of the Civil Rights Act of that year. Many Republican Party Senators and House reps from the North held racially liberal views, but Southern politicians on both sides of the aisle were largely against the measure.
As Klan chapters sprouted up all over the South, support for the Republican Party grew.
However, beginning in 1964, Klan chapters, known as Klaverns, began to appear all over the South, consolidating as the United Klans of America, most often forming in counties with larger populations, higher numbers of homeowners, and higher black populations. By 1966, there were over 350 Klaverns with over 30,000 Klansmen between them. At the nightly rallies held by these KKK chapters, the recruiters spoke of the alleged danger posed by integration, spurred on by a sense of urgency in the wake of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Though lynchings and cross-burnings were still two of the KKK’s stocks in trade, many Klan leaders urged their followers to vote against candidates who supported integration. “We must use ballots over bullets to form a voting bloc to defeat any n——loving politician that runs for office,” urged Bob Jones, the UKA North Carolina Grand Dragon.
Not surprisingly, in 1964, the UKA rallied behind Barry Goldwater while criticizing incumbent Democratic President LBJ’s increasing support for civil rights. According to the study, though Goldwater also picked up stronger support in counties with high percentages of African-Americans, the voting barriers still presented to blacks in 1964 indicate that the voter turnout among blacks in these counties was low and the whites who lived there believed that blacks posed a threat.
Therefore, they opted to vote against Johnson, as he was in favor of integration and the study shows that Goldwater not only received a good deal of votes in counties with low population density, low unemployment, lower percentages of college graduates, and higher median incomes. It should also be noted that in 1960, the bulk of the votes in these counties were for Democrats, as at that time, said party had not yet lent their support to the Civil Rights Movement in earnest. However, in 1964, the vote for Goldwater was, on average, 2 per cent higher in counties where a Klavern had been established.
In 1968, former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a notorious segregationist, ran for President on the American Independent Party ticket after his Democratic Party colleagues opted to pursue integration. Like Goldwater, he received substantial support from voters in counties with low population density, low unemployment, lower percentages of college graduates, higher median incomes and high percentages of Democratic votes during the 1960 election. On average, Wallace received 1.6 percent more votes in counties with Ku Klux Klan chapters during his 1968 bid for the White House.
Furthermore, the study indicates that a great many Southerners who voted Democratic in 1960 felt betrayed as their party pursued integration and opted to switch sides and vote for Goldwater in 1964. Many of these same voters opted for Wallace in 1968, and by 1972 returned to the Republican party for good.
Most damning of all, as the study takes into account the change from the 1960 vote for Nixon to the 1980 vote for Reagan, the increase in Republican voting was, on average, 3.701 percent higher in Southern counties with a Klan chapter than in Southern counties without one. For the switch from Democratic to GOP votes from 1960 through 1992, the study shows a 4.890 percent higher increase in Southern counties with a KKK chapter than in those without one.
In that case, between Goldwater’s blatant appeal to racist Southerners and the Grand Dragons’ exhortation to their followers to vote against candidates who supported civil rights, perhaps it should come as no surprise that although Franklin Delano Roosevelt carried the South handily when he won the Presidency in the 1932 election, neither Al Gore nor John Kerry nor Barack Obama was able to gain ground in that region during their respective Presidential campaigns.
Indeed, the effects of the Klan’s influence on the Republican Party have proven to be more substantial in 1992 and 2000 than in 1972, despite being stacked up against a plethora of controls.
The KKK’s influence on the Republican Party remains evident in the ascent of Donald Trump in 2016.
The outspoken racism on the part of likely Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has envisioned a wall separating Mexico from the United States in the interest of keeping Central American immigrants, whom he disparages (despite the fact that a great many work at his Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada) on their side of the border, and has recommended that Muslims be mandated to register in a federal database and wear special identification badges. His supporters have rallied around this rhetoric, with cries of “WHITE POWER!” heard at a Trump rally in Mobile, Alabama in August 2015.
Two months earlier, the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi publication, endorsed Donald Trump for President, and more recently, David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and noted white nationalist expressed interest in becoming Donald Trump’s running mate.
Though the KKK ultimately did not defeat the civil rights movement, indeed they made an indelible mark on the American political landscape by continuing the war of attrition through the ballot box.