Opinion Columns & Blogs

Is Georgia a ‘purple’ state? That’s hard to say

If you mix the colors red and blue, you get purple. It may seem like a basic maxim but that is what is happening in Georgia for the 2016 presidential elections. Recent polls and newscasts list Georgia, a Deep Southern state noted for voting for Republican presidential candidates, as a battleground state. If neither major political party has a definitive stranglehold on the state, then why? The hot issue of immigration, demographic shifts as well as economic reimaging help explain why the Georgia, yes Georgia, could be a purple state.

Economics has a lot to do with it, and Reconstruction is a good place to start. It was a federal post-Civil War policy designed to reincorporate the South back into the Union. It lasted only ten years, but its lasting effects traversed well into the 20th century. Reconstruction limited investment opportunities in the South, which in turn had major impact on immigration patterns in the United States.

A main period of U.S. immigration was between 1880 and 1920. People flooded U.S shores. Yet the impact in the South was minimal. Only 2.1% of the people living in Southern states during this immigration period were foreign born. New immigrants sought economic opportunities most of which were located in big northern cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

The lack of manpower and capital investment led the South to remain primarily an agricultural region. Admittedly, there were main ports like New Orleans and Baltimore, but it was not enough to transform the South. A Columbus entrepreneur explained to me that the Northern industrialists kept wages so low that that it was very difficult for businesses to invest in the South.

By 1920, there were stark differences between the North and South, demographically and economically. This gap also hints as to why football became so embedded in the South. The University of Alabama’s upset win over the University of Washington in the 1926 Rose Bowl had critical impact. The Crimson Tide were a steep underdog, yet prevailed as national champions. A sense of pride resonated throughout the region that still was trying to overcome its post-Reconstruction legacy.

Today football is ubiquitous in the South, drawing fierce rivalries. The expectation for the South to produce annual national champions is as fierce as ever.

However, immigration and demographic trends are not constant. A hundred years ago, it was expected that most people in the South were born here. However, things have changed dramatically and there is now a global South. High-tech industry as well a million Northern expats have relocated to the south. Admittedly, immigration and demographic shifts have impacted Southern states in varying degrees. Ninety percent of Louisiana and Mississippi residents remain Southern born. However, today, 30 percent of people living in Georgia were born outside of the South. A hundred years ago it was less than ten percent. Almost 600,000 immigrants now live in Georgia, with the largest portion coming from Latin America, followed by Asia.

Demographic shifts impact elections. Georgia has voted as a red state in every presidential election since 1980. However, current polls link Georgia as a toss-up state. This is no accident, and immigration and demographic shifts are key factors.

It’s unclear how Georgians will ultimately vote. But unlike the 1926 Rose Bowl, which saw Alabama’s upset win, there should no surprises for Georgia’s 2016 electorate decision. It may be close enough that Georgia could go red or blue. As to whether Georgia is indeed a purple state? The simple answer is yes, no and maybe; either way, red mixed with blue makes purple.

Fred Gordon is department chair of Politics, Philosophy and Public Administration at Columbus State University; gordon_frederick@