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Has Ku Klux Klan influenced present voting patterns?

Posted December 9, 2014
Picture: Klansmen in robes with burning cross. Source: Flickr

Picture: Klansmen in robes with burning cross. Source: Flickr

The last influential Ku Klux Klan was active 50 years ago. This name was used by numerous independent local groups opposing the Civil Rights movement and desegregation. Although, this social movement exists only in the history books now, new sociological study suggests that it made an influence on American politics which can be observed even in the results of the present day elections.

Researchers at the Notre Dame, Brandeis and Yale Universities claim that “decades after the Klan declined, racial attitudes map onto party voting among southern voters, but only in counties where the Klan had been active.”

It is well known that support for the American Republican party is strong in the southern states of the U.S. Last Democratic candidates for the post of the U.S. president, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama lost elections in the south. “We aim to shed additional light on party realignment in southern states. We do so by considering whether mobilization of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s had an enduring impact on presidential voting outcomes in southern counties,” authors of the study published in the American Sociological Review say.

The study revealed that these places, where Ku Klux Kan was active, witnessed a greater increase of the popularity of the Republican Party than places, where this organization was not established.

Rory McVeigh and his colleagues argue that clan was able to polarize attitudes of local residents, because its activity was not only controversial, but also highly noticeable. “It encouraged white voters to prioritize the defense of white supremacy when making voting decisions, upending long-standing Democratic Party allegiances and favoring Republicans over Democrats in presidential elections,” they say.

But how these events can have long term consequences? How can polarization persist for decades? Sociologists think that sensitive public issues can have long-lasting influence, because it forces individuals to change their positions in social networks. Consequently number of interactions with people holding similar positions increase and ideological identities are reinforced in that way.  “Even after a movement has left the scene or is no longer serving as a takeoff issue, these associated relationship patterns can remain intact for years and even generations,” the scientists explain.

Article: McVeigh R., Cunningham D., Farrell J., 2014, Political Polarization as a Social Movement Outcome: 1960s Klan Activism and Its Enduring Impact on Political Realignment in Southern Counties, 1960 to 2000, American Sociological Review 79: 1144, source link.

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