Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics
Cotton farmers

(with Avi Acharya and Maya Sen, Forthcoming, Spring 2018, Princeton University Press)

How did American racial attitudes originate? How can we make sense of consistent and stubborn regional divides on race and race-related questions? Why is the South more conservative than other parts of the country?

This book project tackles these questions by arguing that contemporary politics is shaped in part by the historical persistence of political attitudes. To explain contemporary attitudes on race and politics in the South, we center our argument on the “peculiar institution” that drove the South’s economy and politics for nearly 250 years: chattel slavery. Using extensive quantitative analyses and new sources of data, we show that whites who live in parts of the South that were reliant on slavery are today more conservative, more racially hostile, and less amenable to policies that could promote black progress. We also show that these patterns have persisted historically and are the direct consequences of the slaveholding history of this area, rather than being simply attributable to demographic factors (such as people moving around over time) or the large presence of minority populations in these areas today.

More optimistically, we also document how some attitudes and outcomes have attenuated over time as a result of effective interventions like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; however, these interventions have been less effective at eliminating differences in political and racial attitudes.

Our conclusion is that Southern slavery has had a lasting effect on Southern political and racial attitudes, and therefore on national politics. At its broadest, however, our work shows that our history can leave a lasting impact on our current-day politics, and that institutions can have a persistent effect on attitudes well after their collapse.

For more information, feel free to check out the Table of Contents and Introductory Chapter and the prospectus. For additional chapters, please email us.