The South remains a breed apart.
You really have to tip your hat to American academics, who display an imperishable talent for rediscovering the obvious.
The major discovery announced this week comes from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where an erudite soul named Scott Keeter, speaking at the school's Center for the Study of the American South, has found—that the South is more conservative than the rest of the country.
The Republican Party figured that out some decades ago, and if the Republicans can understand it, there's no reason eggheads in the universities can't.
Nevertheless, Mr. Keeter's discovery remains significant—if only because it ought to tell Republicans and other heavy lifters how to deal with Southerners.
Mr. Keeter, associate director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, doesn't quite play his discovery this way, though that's what it really comes down to. What he says he's discovered is that while "The historical belief was that the South was a world apart," this is no longer true. Due to national marketing, television, and the rise of a nationally directed pop culture, Southerners are converging toward the same set of inane beliefs and habits as everyone else.
But it's not completely true, and Mr. Keeter [send him email] chose to dwell on the differences that make Southerners what the Virginian-Pilot, reporting on his speech, calls "a breed apart."
[Dixie still whistles a different political tune, Margaret Edds, Virginian-Pilot , June 8, 2003]
While both Southerners and non-Southerners have become "more tolerant," as the Pilot's story puts it, nearly 60 percent of white Southerners say it is "all right for blacks and whites to date." Nearly 80 percent of non-Southerners say so.
More Southerners think the country has "gone too far in pushing equal rights," while non-Southerners are "a bit" more willing to "do everything possible to improve the position of minorities, even with [racial] preferences."
But race relations are not the only issue on which Southerners remain more conservative than their Northern counterparts: "On issues from race and sexuality to immigration and military force, polls still detect a distinction between Southerners, black and white, and other Americans." On a range of issues, Mr. Keeter found that "white Southerners [are] more conservative every time: schools should have the right to fire gay teachers; the U.S. should restrict immigration; the best way to ensure peace is through military strength; and prayer is an important part of daily life."
And they're not all that divided by race on such issues. Mr. Keeter found that "Southern blacks tend to be more religious, more committed to military solutions, more socially conservative than non-Southern blacks."
But Mr. Keeter could find "little or no distinction among Southern and non-Southern whites on environmental protection, government regulation and social welfare." He hypothesized that "Southerners have become more satisfied with government as welfare reform, privatization and other conservative reforms have taken hold."
You'd need to know a little more about what the exact questions in the poll were to leap to that conclusion, but it's not entirely improbable it's correct. There is a major difference between the kinds of issues on which Southerners remain more conservative and those on which they're not.
The conservative positions are centered around culture—race, sex, manners and morals, immigration, the use of force, religion. They deal with who you are, where you come from, and where you think you might go. They center around the norms by which people—a distinct people—live or should live and without which they would cease to be a people and become—sort of like much of the rest of the country—merely a population.
The other matters on which Southerners maybe aren't so conservative tend to be what Washington types call "policy wonk" issues that few but experts care much about: how to protect the environment, how much welfare we should have, how much government should do to regulate the economy. The answers you give them don't define you as a people.
What Mr. Keeter has shown in his polling is that the South remains not only a culturally distinctive part of the country but also the core of the country's conservatism. Mr. Keeter found "slightly stronger identification with the Republican Party by Southerners than non-Southerners. The distinction is only a few percentage points, but it has been steady for the last three years," and he points out "The South has grown and now provides a majority of the electoral votes to the GOP."
You wouldn't know that from the way the Republicans have courted and pandered to blacks, Hispanics, Moslems, homosexuals, and women in the last couple of elections.
You'd only know it if you actually looked at the election returns and broke them down by those categories.
The Republicans might try doing that some time, before the South decides the next election.
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[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control.]