What's been missing from this heated discussion are actual facts.
And those facts are best presented by election results and political votes, although polls and party affiliations are important as well.
So I'm going to try to shed some light on this discussion. You are more than welcome to add more data to the discussion, but flames will be ignored.
One thing is for certain - there is no undeniable way of measuring this. No matter what your metric is, someone is going to disagree. Some will say you can measure by straight party affiliation. Others by polls (although which polls, and how they ask the questions is highly debatable).
However, the one thing we can all agree on is election results. No matter how you arrive at it, elections are where the rubber meets the road.
While this may be controversial to some, I'm going to focus my data concerning election results from two years: 1964 and 1994. Post-Civil Rights Act and Post-NAFTA.
The first one is obviously about race. The second is obviously about working class jobs.
Note: I'm not the only to chose these two events. People from both sides of the debate have also been using these two events to prove their points.
If you know any better metric, feel free to post your data below.
A few words for perspective: while 89% of Republican voters in 2012 were non-Hispanic white, 60% of Democratic voters were also non-Hispanic white.
Religion is the most clear demarcation for voting preference.
The Democrats went from controlling 32 state legislatures in 1964 to just 23 in 1966.
That's a significant loss, however, they only controlled 25 state legislatures in 1962.
This was less than the 1970's average, but more than the 1950's average.
The Democrats recovered to owning 37 in 1974.
All in all, the changes here were within normal fluctuations.
OTOH, the governorship changes lasted slightly longer.
The Democrats went from having 33 state capitols to 25 and continued to keep dropping to 18 in 1969. By 1974 the Democrats recovered to 36 state capitols.
The congressional impact was similar to the state level.
The Democrats in the House went from 295 to 248 between the 89th and 90th Congress. They didn't fully recover until the 94th Congress.
The Senate had almost no immediate impact. The Democrats dropped from 68 to 64 between the 89th and 90th Congress, but continued dropping until they reached 54 in the 92nd Congress. They recovered to 61 senators in the 94th Congress.
The Democrats went from controlling 25 state legislatures in 1992 to 18 in 1994, which doesn't sound that bad until you factor in the GOP went from controlling 8 to controlling 19.
More importantly, the Democrats never controlled so many state legislatures again until 2009, while the GOP never controlled less than 14 state legislatures.
The governorships weren't quite so bad. The Democrats went from 29 in 1993 to 19, while the GOP went from 19 to 30. The Democrats didn't managed to equal that number until 2008, while the GOP never went below 21.
In the House, the Democrats went from 258 to 206 between the 103rd and 104th Congress. They didn't recover until the 111th Congress.
The Senate impact was most immediate and dramatic of any comparison. The Democrats went from 57 to 48 between the 103rd and 104th Congress. The Democrats never recovered until the 111th Congress.
The electoral losses by the Democrats on the state level post-NAFTA was both larger and more permanent than post-Civil Rights Act. This is a fact.
The Democrats in the House, after a much longer period of time, managed to recover from NAFTA, but almost immediately lost those gains again. The same is true in the Senate.
Inconvenient Facts and Exploding Myths
The southern white's shift to the GOP actually began long before 1964. Ike won the South for the GOP for the first time since Reconstruction.
What is going to upset a lot of pre-conceptions is this:
the biggest problem with the thesis comes when you consider what had been going on in the interim: Two civil rights bills pushed by the Eisenhower administration had cleared Congress, and the administration was pushing forward with the Brown decision, most famously by sending the 101st Airborne Division to Arkansas to assist with the integration of Little Rock Central High School.A lot of people forget that many of the most racist politicians in the 1960's were southern Democrats.
It’s impossible to separate race and economics completely anywhere in the country, perhaps least of all in the South. But the inescapable truth is that the GOP was making its greatest gains in the South while it was also pushing a pro-civil rights agenda nationally. What was really driving the GOP at this time was economic development. As Southern cities continued to develop and sprout suburbs, Southern exceptionalism was eroded; Southern whites simply became wealthy enough to start voting Republican.
In fact, the Congressional voting record for the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act showed that Republicans supported the act by a far larger percentage than Democrats. (roughly 80-20% for Republicans versus 65-35% Democrats)
Southern Democrats were almost unanimously against the Civil Rights Act.
When you consider this simple fact, it is illogical in every way that you can blame the Democrats demise in the south on them being insufficiently racist for white voters.
But the assertion that white Southerners began voting Republican in 1964 is simply incorrect, whether for president, Congress, or statehouses. The development of the Southern GOP was a slow-moving, gradual process that lasted over a century, and is just being completed today.According to the CBS/NYTimes polls, white identifying with the Democratic Party dropped from 34% to 31% between 1992 and 1994. Interestingly, the Democrats had a bigger drop in the Midwest than in the South and the total drop was from among non-college graduates.