What Was President Nixon’s Southern Strategy?

Richard Nixon, the 37th United States president, made use of a successful “Southern strategy” to win enough electoral votes from the southern states to defeat Hubert Humphrey, his 1968 Democratic election opponent. Until the 1960s, the southern states had traditionally voted against the Republican “Party of Lincoln” since the Confederate States’ loss of the Civil War. By appealing to the anti-integration, states’ rights and law-and-order sentiments of many Southerners of the time, Nixon was able to sway enough voters to the Republican ticket and win the election.

A similar strategy had been attempted previously by Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. As a result, Goldwater won the “Deep South” states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia. He was the first Republican candidate to win these states since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, hurt his campaign elsewhere and he failed to win any other states except his home state, Arizona.

Four years later, Nixon’s “Southern strategy” proved to be successful. Nixon was able to reassure Southern voters that he would be less aggressive in pursuing a civil rights agenda than the previous Democratic administration headed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Nixon’s campaign helped gain the support of the Southern states through his opposition to school busing, judicial activism and by remarking that the South should not be treated “as a whipping boy.”