From white supremacy to Barack Obama: The history of the Democratic Party

Once the Civil War was over, the Republican party was bitterly unpopular among white Southerners, who wanted to maintain their supremacy over former slaves. So the Democratic Party promised to limit federal government intervention on behalf of black citizens. Democrats became effectively the only political party in the South, aided by intimidation and suppression of black voters. Democrats also won on the state and local level leading to constant abuses of the rights of black citizens. As the 20th century began, the country was changing, and the Democratic Party was changing too. A handful of individuals and corporations had grown enormously rich and powerful, using their vast fortunes to influence politics. As a reaction to this, some reformers began pushing an agenda of progressivism — arguing that the government would take more of a role in regulating big businesses and improving ordinary people’s lives.
At first, these progressive reformers were present in both parties. But it was Democrat Woodrow Wilson who won the presidency in 1912 and put much of this agenda into action, over Republican resistance. So the Democratic Party became the main home for progressives, and Republicans became more the party of business. But it was the Great Depression of the 1930s that sealed the Democratic Party’s new identity as the party of government activism. In an effort to combat the crippling economic situation, President Franklin Roosevelt signed what was then the largest package of domestic government projects in American History, calling it the New Deal. His administration dramatically expanded the size of government. Yet the party was still split over race. By the mid-20th century, it contained Southerners who staunchly supported segregation, liberal reformers trying to end it, and many politicians happy to look the other way.
But it was 1964 when the senate voted on the anti segregation civil rights act that shows how the progressive reformers in the party had gained the upper hand, steering the party away from its racists past towards equality.
But the democrats in the south voted against the civil rights act, remaining wedded to the idea of segregation. This chart shows the presidential vote of black voters. Around the 1960s the Black voters who had already been moving toward the Democratic party would begin overwhelmingly support Democrats from then on, and conversely the republicans would take a huge hit in black voter support. Meanwhile, white Southerners, moved away from the Democratic Party they had been loyal to for so long — in part because of race, but also because of suspicion of big government and a desire to defend “traditional values” against liberal activists.
Democrats would go from dominating the South, to losing almost all influence in the region. Thanks in part to this drop in popularity among white voters, Democrats started losing elections, often losing by huge margins. But demographically, the US is becoming an increasingly non-white country, and the democrats have had a comeback thanks in part to minority voters. The huge influx of hispanic voters has especially benefitted democrats. These demographic shifts helped the Democratic Party, once the advocates of white supremacy and slavery to elect the first black president in 2008, showing just how much the party had changed over the years. Yet it’s still not entirely clear where the future of the Democratic Party will lie. But as America becomes more diverse, it’s likely that the democratic party’s appeal among minorities will continue to be its strength into the future.