Dr. Angie Maxwell (UT AMS PhD, 2008) recently published her second academic monograph, The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics (Oxford, 2019). AMS :: ATX spoke with Maxwell about the new project, interdisciplinary research on Southern politics, and the importance of paying attention to white women voters in the South.
Dr. Maxwell is Director for the Diane D. Blair Center for Southern Politics & Society, Associate Professor of Political Science, and Diane D. Blair Professor of Southern Studies at the University of Arkansas.
Can you tell us about your book, The Long Southern Strategy, and how you came to the project?
I started this book long before “nasty women” and “bad hombres” became part of our political vernacular. But as I watched the events of those elections unfold, I realized that the central question of this book—how did we get here?—was more important to answer than ever. Political scientists will tell you that the realignment of the South from solidly Democrat to Republican is the single greatest partisan transformation in all of American history. Yet the explanation that we give—the explanation that we accept—seemed too simple to me, especially now. I wanted to figure out what we had missed? What dots had we not connected? To that end, rather than shining a spotlight on a single election, this book is a panned-out, mixed-methods, backward glance at the Republican Party’s decision, in the post-Civil Rights era, to court southern white voters. It turns out it wasn’t a decision, but a series of decisions—not just on the federal government’s role in ensuring racial equality, but also on equality for women and on the separation of church and state. It took a Long Southern Strategy to flip the South from blue to red, the result of which changed out national politics across the board.
What projects or people have inspired your work?
Lillian Smith’s writing has influenced me profoundly. Her book, Killers of the Dream, published in 1949, set me on this research path. She was able to critique the social constructions that she lived in all of their complexity—how white supremacy and patriarchy and authoritarian religion were intimately and deliberately intertwined, mutually reinforcing each other until they became a gravitational-like force that held everything and everyone in their place.
How does your background in American Studies impact your writing, teaching, and your career in general?
There has been very little research on the gendered aspects of political realignment, and even less on the political behavior of southern white women. Those dynamics play a critical role in the GOP’s efforts to win southern white voters and cut a new path to an Electoral College victory. The GOP’s decision to drop the ERA from its platform in 1980 is a lynchpin in the political realignment of the region, winning the South back after Democrat Jimmy Carter turns it blue again in 1976. And the anti-ERA movement gave the GOP its “family values” mantra that catalyzed the party’s campaign to convert religious evangelical and fundamentalist Christian voters. In order to understand why anti-feminism played so well in the white South, I had to pull from literary criticism, archival material, and scholarship in sociology, legal studies, gender studies, cultural anthropology, etc., and merge it with the quantitative polling data that underscores the book’s major arguments. I could not have done that without my training in American Studies.
What advice do you have for students in our department about getting the most out of their experience at UT?
Read across disciplines. Take classes across disciplines, even across colleges. There is so much rich ground to till in the overlap between the humanities and social sciences. Quantitative methods can enrich American Studies scholarship, and American Studies scholars can help, for example, political scientists ask better polling questions.
What projects are you excited to work on in the future?
I’m definitely planning to write more about the politics of southern white women—how they defy the national Gender Gap. For example, though journalists and pundits often report that Hillary Clinton lost white women in the 2016 election, they do not disaggregate the vote by region. Hillary Clinton won white women living outside of the South, 52 to 48. However, in the South, Trump wins the southern white female vote by almost 30 points. I’m also pursuing a project on the history of anti-feminism in America, particularly among women. But right now, I’m co-editing an edition of James Agee’s short fiction. I wrote my master’s thesis in American Studies on James Agee, and I’m thrilled to return to one of the first subjects that sparked my intellectual curiosity.