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James Gregory on Wallace.

June 17, 2008, 4:10 pm

Since some folks asked, James Gregory on “variable 666” and white migration from the South:

[p. 306] How many of the 4,820,543 Wallace voters in nonsouthern states were former migrants is impossible to say. One poll said 10 percent, but it involved a tiny sample that cannot be considered reliable. A number of political analysts, including Samuel Lubell and Kevin Phillips, were sure that former southerners voted disproportionately for Wallace based on the fact that he achieved some of his highest vote totals in communities that were known to have significant southern-born populations…. [M]igrant support extended far beyond voting. Former southerners participated at every level of the campaign apparatus in the nonsouthern states, and sometimes, as had happened with the Klan in the 1920s, Wallace’s staff utilized networks of former migrants to start the campaign organizations….

[307]

But this is not the whole story. While there is evidence that southerners played key roles in his campaigns and voted for him in disproportionate numbers, the great bulk of Wallace’s northern votes camp from other sources….

[citing various surveys; p. 308]

His major base consisted of working-class whites, and within that strata former southerners were outnumbered by northern-born Protestants and Catholics. Wallace’s strength among union members was the big surprise….

[309]

Wallace’s support thus extended far beyond the southern migrant population. By the same token , it is important to understand that most former southerners had nothing to do with the Wallace campaign…. But the diaspora had been important, probably critical. A southern politician had galvanized a potent constituency of angry families using a language of militant working-class whiteness while relying on cadres of diaspora migrants to build the movement. He and they had built a bridge that would in the years to come carry many blue-collar northerners away from the Democratic Party and into a pivotal position between the two great parties.

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