Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Project

Much too long without a post. Now that the post-election analysis has quieted down a bit, I want to move into something that I've long been interested in, and much more historical in nature. Specifically, I want to look at the voting behavior of urban white ethnics, especially within the context of the civil rights movement. Having spent a lot of time in Milwaukee, I've always been fascinated (and disturbed) by the deep racial divide and segregation that accompanies not only day to day life, but politics as well. It should be remembered that George Wallace began his 1964 campaign in Milwaukee, not Montgomery, AL.

The political dimension of the civil rights movement has almost always focused on the deep south. Here, I want to focus on the mostly forgotten northern dimension. Following the victories of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, many expected further advances to follow. As we know, that did not happen quickly, or without massive resistance. Issues such as housing and busing set off massive demonstrations among urban whites in cities like Milwaukee, Chicago, and Boston. I recently read a fascinating book called "Chicago Divided" that looked at Chicago politics from Mayor Daley through the landmark election of Harold Washington in 1983. What this story re-enforced was the power that white ethnic voters wielded in urban politics in throughout the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's.

To begin, I want to look at the 1968 Wallace vote in the city of Chicago. Below is a ward map in which I've written the Wallace percentage for each ward.

In 1968, Wallace got 13.5% nationwide. Here we see how in many Chicago wards he outperformed his national average. The cluster of wards of the south side represent the city's concentration of white working class ethnics (Polish, Irish, etc.) These are the voters I'm going to focus on in coming posts. I want to look at different cities and ask not only what explains these voting patterns, but what happened to these voters over time. One thing I expect we'll see--and what many have argued about Wallace--is that these voters used Wallace as a stopping off point on the way to becoming the "Reagan Democrats" of the 1980's.