Changing Political Forces in the Region Summary

For well over half a century, Appalachia was strongly tied to the Democratic Party through the power of Rooseveltian working class politics. While the coal industry and corrupt county political machines dominated a good part of the state and local political scene, the machine was dominated by the Democratic Party. Working class voters were solidly Democratic, backed by a strong and sometime militant labor movement, led by the United Mine Workers of America.

Yet, only twenty four years later, in 2016, the working class, including the coal miners, voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump who won by overwhelming margins in Central Appalachia. In addition to the lack of jobs and a decent income, there appear to be deep seated cultural factors. Republicans have skillfully played upon these cultural issues – charging Democrats with coddling “welfare queens,” being soft on black crime “Willie Horton”, and giving jobs to less-qualified blacks over more-qualified whites (the battle over affirmative action). Cultural differences also arise with immigrants and issues related to Mexico and Muslims. White working class voters don’t trust Democrats to be as “tough” on these issues as Republicans.