How air conditioning created the modern Republican Party
Congressional scholar Nelson Polsby explains:
The most important thing, probably, that happened to the House of Representatives over the last fifty years, say, was that it went from a body dominated by the conservative coalition of Democrats -- Dixiecrats mostly -- and Republicans, to a condition in which they were dominated by the majority of the majority party, which was liberal Democrats. In other words, it liberalized. This is, obviously, before the big change in the mid-nineties, when the Republicans took over. But over the sweep of time, it was the conservative coalition giving way to a programmatic, liberal majority of the majority party. And the question is, why did it happen? ... My conclusion was, as you know, "air-conditioning."
It went this way. In order for the House to liberalize, it was necessary for the majority of the majority party to find its voice. The majority of the majority party could not find its voice when the Democratic caucus, the Democrats, were in the majority. The Democratic caucus was moribund, could not meet and could not act because it had so many Dixiecrats in it.
All right, now, what happened? Well, the Dixiecrats disappeared. Why did they disappear? ... They disappeared because of the rise of the Republican Party in the South. Sooner or later, conservatives, instead of being Dixiecrats, became Republicans. Now why did they become Republicans? Well, because a sufficient number of people who were Republicans moved to the South from the North. And the question is, why did they move South? ... And the answer is, they migrated down there. Why did they migrate down there? Well, basically, a fair number of them had spent winters down there, but with the introduction in the early 1950s of residential air-conditioning, people began to stay down there.
We tend to like political explanations for political phenomena. But other forces, like technological change, matter too. And they figure fairly heavily into the explanations political scientists give for major political upheavals. When I interviewed Gregory Koger on the sudden ubiquity of the filibuster, he blamed it on airplanes.
January 19, 2010; 11:31 AM ET
Categories: Congress , Political Science
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