South Carolina Democratic Primary, Institutional Legacies, and Generational Change

In class on Thursday, I defined institutions and described some of their major characteristics, the most important of which is that an institution endures, sometimes despite the significant impetus for change driven by changing political, social, economic, and technological sources. Last night’s Democratic primary exit polls in South Carolina provide a glimpse into the institution known as the Democratic primary and how that institution has endured over time. Here is a portion of the exit polls from CNN:


Notice the three red boxes, which confirm that Obama was able to win a landslide victory in South Carolina despite receiving only 15% of the 60-and-older non-black vote. So what, you may respond, a pattern has emerged showing Obama captures much more support from the under-30 crowd than the over-60 cohort. But if you look at the over-60 black vote, you’ll see that they voted overwhelmingly in favor of Obama. The complete story here is the institutional legacy of the Democratic party in the South and the impact of generational change on the nature of the party. When we cover political attitudes and ideologies in about two weeks time, we’ll read Ronald Inglehart’s work, in which he highlights the importance of inter-generational changes in attitudes brought about by exposure to epoch-changing events. Lyndon Johnson’s signature on the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was just such an event.

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