This report reflects the views of the author(s) and should not be viewed as representing the views of the external client(s), nor those of Harvard University or any of its faculty. This report is being submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Public Policy. All external references are cited within the full report. 

Report Overview

IN 2020, THE SOUTH IS TAKING CENTER STAGE TO SOME OF OUR DEMOCRACY'S GREATEST THREATS.
 

The global COVID-19 pandemic, rampant voter suppression, and an impending destructive hurricane season wreak havoc on Southern communities. Yet, the South is ripe for Democratic investment. More people are moving to the South than anywhere else in the country. This “New Southern Majority” will soon reflect our nation’s future majority-minority democracy.  Since 2016, Democrats have leveraged these demographic shifts to build momentum and execute wins at the ballot box, but demographics are not destiny.

With strategic guidance from Black Voters Matter Fund Co-Founder LaTosha Brown, we make the case for why and how Democratic donors can invest strategically in the region. This report:

 

  • Reveals the gravity of the GOP "Southern Strategy" and how it stifles Democratic donor decision-making from making bold, transformative investments in our nation’s fastest-growing region.

  • Maps how Democrats can build power by aligning electoral investments with civic organizing networks that Southerners have always built in the face of regressive policy.

  • Offers recommendations for Democratic donors on how they can expand the scope of their work beyond voter-base building to donor-base building during COVID-19.

 

The South is at a crossroads.

The South is taking center stage to some of our Democracy's greatest challenges.
 

Our region may say our final goodbyes 60,000 loved ones, as 6 of the top 10 states for average projected COVID-19 deaths are in the South. 4 out of 6 of these states have not expanded Medicaid.

Yet, the South is ripe for Democratic investments.

More people are moving to the South than any other region in the country. After the 2020 Census and its redistricting, these shifts will bring up to 5 additional seats in Congress to the South. More seats on Capitol Hill means more relevance, significance, and influence from the South in setting the policy and legislative agendas for the entire nation.

                                                                                                                                           County-County In-Migration to the South, 2013-2017

 
 
 
 
                                                                                                                        
As the South grows, America's "New Southern Majority" reflects
our future majority-minority democracy.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Since Trump's landmark win in 2016, Democrats have brought communities of color from the margins of electoral engagement toward the margins of electoral victory.
Democrats flipped a US Senate seat in Alabama in 2017; ran close calls across high-profile contests in Texas, Georgia, and Florida in 2018, and executed critical state-level wins across Kentucky, Louisiana, and Virginia in 2019.

When donors invest, Democrats win across the South.

In the midst of crisis...

Southerners build power.

Southern states will elect over ¼ of DNC pledged delegates. We must not underestimate the South's potential at our own peril.

2020’s political landscape confronts seismic, unprecedented change, including, but not limited to: constitutional crises; fundamental changes in political campaigns; demographic shifts; rise of white supremacy; and mass mobilization through protest politics. Democrats across the South responded powerfully to these threats in 2018, when they organized and executed 9 “Blue Wave” Congressional wins. These wins fail to capture how Democratic wins across the South intersect with movement building across Southern issue priorities…all on shoestring budgets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The South is the battleground to fight regressive policies and

promote progressive policies to move the entire nation forward.

PROBLEM STATEMENT:


Despite momentum generated by the Democratic electoral wins across the South, Democratic donors are not investing effectively enough to build and sustain political power across the region in 2020 and beyond.

Key Finding:

THE GOP "SOUTHERN STRATEGY" STILL DOMINATES DEMOCRATIC DONOR-DECISION MAKING ON FUNDING DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGNS ACROSS THE SOUTH. 

 

Concocted during the Nixon years, the GOP “Southern Strategy” consolidated support among white voters across the South by exploiting racism against African Americans. The impact of this strategy resonates today with white supremacy undertones emanating from Trump’s White House. This all reinforces a false perception of the South as a deficit on America’s future and ultimately stunts Democratic donors from making bold, transformative investments in Democratic campaigns across the South.

PROBLEM STATEMENT:


Despite momentum generated by the Democratic electoral wins across the South, Democratic donors are not investing effectively enough to build and sustain political power across the region in 2020 and beyond.

Key Finding:

For the GOP, investing in the "Southern Strategy" is paying dividends in terms of power & policy

GOP power brokers hail from the South. From Trump's Cabinet to the Courts to Congress, they hold the highest levels of political power, shaping policy agendas across portfolios such as agriculture, energy, defense, and foreign affairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their policies harm the American people, especially Southern communities. For instance, 8 out of the 14 states that refused to expand Medicaid after the passage of the Affordable Care Act are Southern states. The majority of these states will see exacerbated racial disparities in healthcare access as a result of COVID-19.

METHODS:

We interviewed over 75 leaders across 13 Southern States. 

We aggregated campaign finance data from over 1,700 races over the past decade to assess who Congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaign donors across the South look like.

 

By pairing qualitative insights from the ground and with quantitative data from Catalist, we coalesce findings around Southern voter-base building and donor base-building. 

PROBLEM STATEMENT:


Despite momentum generated by the Democratic electoral wins across the South, Democratic donors are not investing effectively enough to build and sustain political power across the region in 2020 and beyond.

KEY INSIGHTS:

Grassroots leaders lift up “reclaims” to rebuke "deficit" perceptions, emanating from the GOP "Southern Strategy."

"Deficit" Claim #1:

"It's too expensive to invest in the South. There's no infrastructure."

Using foundation grantmaking as a proxy, traditional philanthropy only invests $0.56 per person for every dollar invested elsewhere.

Grassroots Reclaim #1:

"In the South, relationships matter. They form the region's organizing infrastructure."

Southern community foundations give nearly $2 billion each year across the region.

What Southerners Are Saying:

Faith Matters.

 

According to the Pew Research Center, Southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Faith traditions form the bedrock of Southern giving and organizing.

"Deficit" Claim #2:

"The South is
a bastion of racism."

Race remains this nation's most traumatic issue. In the South, racism still materializes into hate that inflames domestic terror across the region. Per the Global Terrorism Database, white supremacist terror has spiked ten-fold over the last decade.

Locations of hate organizations refer to likely headquarters.

Grassroots Reclaim #2:

"The South is a ripe experiment for America's future majority-minority democracy."

“In the South of the future, it will be voters of color supported by white voters, not the other way around,” postulates a Stacey Abrams aide. "Whether or not you accept Georgia as a battleground, is if you accept the premise that a coalition of voters of color is a viable pathway to victory." 

 

Faulty assumptions about organizing voters of color, like they will vote for Democrats no matter what, risk resurfacing intergenerational trauma and ultimately: voter depression. 

 

Democratic donors cannot afford to take these voters for granted in 2020.

 

What Southerners Are Saying:

Race Matters. Voters of Color Matter.

Donors of Color Matter.

 

There is untapped potential in building coalitions between and among communities of color in the South, but these relationships are tenuous.

When mapping Southern voters of color based on values (from Catalist data), a majority of these voters are driven by faith, family, and future. Southern women of color, in particular, lift up their communities at the ballot box.

Shared values can shatter silos between voter base-building and donor base-building. Democratic campaigns should expand fundraising strategies to align with Southerners' values of faith, family, and future. This could enable Democratic campaigns to shift from a predominantly white donor landscape to one that reflects today’s multiracial America.

Similar to how philanthropy under-leverages the giving power of donors of color, Democratic campaigns in the South also under-leverage the giving power of communities of color.

 

"Deficit" Claim #3:

"Democrats only stay in cities."

The South is home to all five of the nation's fastest-growing cities. Rapidly growing Southern cities boast Democratic gains across the South.

 

Out of the 109 US counties that became majority-minority since 2000, nearly two-thirds (69 counties) are in South's growing urban corridors.

Source: Pew Research Center

Grassroots Reclaim #3:

"There is enormous, untapped potential in rural and suburban areas. The frontier is in the exurbs."

As Southern cities sprawl, the majority of toss-up races are where suburban and rural communities intersect: the exurbs. Democratic donors should consider funding campaigns at the margin of the South’s urban growth: the exurbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Southerners Are Saying:

The Climate Crisis is a Huge Concern.

 

The South will endure the greatest damage from climate change. The costs of climate change will, yet again, transfer wealth from South to North.

 

In one year alone, cities in the South could incur up to $1 trillion from negative impacts of storm surges.

Coastal regions are home to diverse, resilient communities of color. They are stepping up, but their efforts to confront this century's greatest climate challenges are bootstrapped.

 

When Democratic donors support campaigns that center climate resilience, they invest in inclusive, multi-generational, participatory democracy.

FUNDING THE

DEMOCRATIC LONG GAME:

Democratic donors play a pivotal role in reclaiming the GOP "Southern Strategy."

They should support its antidote:

The Third Reconstruction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In practice, this means that Democratic donors must flip the formula for victory. 

This means shifting funding paradigms from return on investment

to return on organizing power.

Race remains this nation's most traumatic issue. In the South, racism still materializes into hate that inflames domestic terror across the region. Per the Global Terrorism Database, white supremacist terror has spiked ten-fold over the last decade.

Locations of hate organizations refer to likely headquarters.

RECOMMENDATION:

To effectively fund Democratic power-building in the long run,

Democratic donors should support the

NEW SOUTHERN MAJORITY FUND.

The NEW SOUTHERN MAJORITY FUND is the vehicle that will empower Democratic donors to expand their giving paradigms

from MOMENT to MOVEMENT.

MOVING FORWARD:

To operationalize the New Southern Majority Fund, Democratic donors should ground their support in:

  • POTENTIAL: The New Southern Majority Fund would prime donor literacy to illuminate how donor giving patterns are intertwined with the rest of the nation. 

  • POWER: The New Southern Majority Fund would build relationships across coalitions of donors and grassroots leaders to promote proximity-informed investments. It would also extend individual giving by promoting portfolios of districts, rather than isolated targets, to guide Democratic donor investments.

  • PROCESS: The New Southern Majority Fund would hold itself accountable to Southern communities and their priorities.

CONCLUSION:

One out every three Americans live in the South. If Democratic donors ignore the fastest-growing region in the nation, they do so at their own peril.

Democratic donors can provide critical care at a time of critical need. The COVID-19 pandemic is a sobering reminder for the critical need for Democrats to reclaim the GOP "Southern Strategy" with the "New Southern Majority."

"The South

is the only place America can find truth and reconciliation—

not because it’s where slavery was largely enacted,

not because it’s where Jim Crow was codified,

not because of any of the ways in which we haven’t lived up to our founding creed,

but because in spite of all that,

it’s where Americans,

particularly communities of color who had the greatest reason to hate America,

loved it and worked to perfect it instead."

 

-Mehul Bhagat

Atlanta, Georgia