In the course of my research into politics and ideology, a thought occurred to me. People tend to associate certain states with “liberal” and “conservative” based on their contemporary makeup and reputations, yet I know that states are not usually permanently one way or the other. The most contemporary example I can think of is West Virginia, which thirty years ago voted Democrat and had no Republicans representing the state in the House or Senate. Today, the only Democrat who represents the state on the federal level is Senator Joe Manchin, who is without question the most right of them in the Senate. West Virginia is not a place Republicans need to worry about winning now despite having a history of electing people who supported the New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society, etc. So, I thought that the best way to represent said change for people would be to average the MC-Index scores of legislators from the state in Congressional sessions from the start of the New Deal to the end of the century. This of course does assume that elected officials are ideologically similar to the people who vote them in, which I think is a good assumption. Let’s first look at New England:
When I tell you that some states used to be conservative, I’m not pulling your leg. Above is a very clear example of a state that underwent a fundamental long-term shift. During the Roosevelt Administration, even some of the Democrats elected were kind of conservative in response to the New Deal, but this was a different Massachusetts, not “Taxachusetts” as some of the detractors of its current politics call it. The political power still lay with the Republican WASPs throughout the 1930s and 1940s with Irish Catholic Democrats having their enclaves primarily in Boston. However, as the 1950s proceed the power shifts from the WASPs to the Irish Catholics, their foremost representatives being the Kennedy family. Democrats were replacing Republicans and more liberal Republicans were replacing Republicans. For instance, Leverett Saltonstall, a moderate conservative Republican elected in 1944, was succeeded by the solidly liberal Republican Ed Brooke in 1967. The same even goes for Democrats, quite notably old machine pol Philip J. Philbin of the 3rd district losing renomination to the very liberal, anti-war, and pro-choice Father Robert Drinan, S.J.
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 4
What you are seeing here is the state transforming from the land of Coolidge to the land of Bernie. Vermont as a state in particular fascinates me given not only its rustic charm but also its remarkable political transition, fueled by people moving from New York City and Boston. At one time, the state was the most reliable Republican state, and now its one of the most reliable Democratic states. I have covered Vermont quite a few times, so I won’t dive into this any further. Now to the South!
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 6
When people think of conservative states, Texas is one of the first that people think of, but there’s more nuance to the state than you might expect if that wasn’t clear to you in 2018. Texas starts out to the left during the New Deal as most of its politicians are strong supporters, but this wanes after FDR’s first term, and by World War II Texas can no longer be considered reliable for the New Deal agenda. However, the liberal element in the Texas Democratic Party still retains some power and it has some leading figures, including Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and of course, LBJ. Note that Texas hovers around the 40s during Johnson’s presidency: a lot of Texas Democrats were willing to lend him a hand even if some of his policies may not have been quite to their taste. After the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the state goes above 50 for good. Note that the state hovers in the 50s in the 1990s: this is due to the Democratic Party electing more liberal politicians while the Republican Party is gaining more seats, so they are kind of canceling each other out. The Democrats would in fact hold a majority of Texas’s House seats until Tom DeLay’s mid-census redistricting. Now let’s look at a more provocative state…Mississippi!
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 60
Wow! This state grew to conservatism quick, and reached its peak in the 1960s at least in part as a reaction to civil rights. The first two sessions of course reflected the support of the New Deal among its senators and representatives, but conservatism surged during World War II and although it had some periods of arrest such as the Eisenhower era, which was partly due to his free market agriculture policies rubbing them the wrong way. Also, one of their representatives, Frank Smith, was kind of liberal. Thus, when he gets redistricted out of office in 1962, the state’s conservatism shoots up again. The decline from that period can be attributed to the state’s Democrats mellowing their conservatism. The uptick in the 1990s is fueled by Republicans winning elected offices. Now for the most dramatic change…Alabama.
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 72
Alabama is slower to shift to the right than Mississippi and the state party’s liberal wing is much stronger than that of Mississippi’s. Both its senators in the 1950s, Lister Hill and John Sparkman, were staunch supporters of Harry S. Truman’s Fair Deal and the latter was in sufficient harmony with the party to be nominated VP in 1952. However, in 1962, two events occurred that pushed the state’s politics solidly to the right. First, George Wallace was elected governor on a hard-line segregationist and anti-national Democrat platform. Second, Senator Lister Hill, an old New Dealer, almost loses reelection to Republican James Martin, who campaigns as an ultra-conservative. Alabama politicians read the writing on the wall and their voting behavior grows significantly more conservative, thus the 16-point increase between the 87th and 88th Congresses. In 1964, the Alabama House delegation went from 8-0 Democrat to 5-3 Republican, and all elected are staunch opponents of the Johnson Administration, hence the massive 36-point rise in conservatism. From then on, the state never goes below a 57 average and reaches a high of 80. On national politics, the state of Alabama no longer votes for Northern Democrats.
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 68