While the 2016 presidential election will be remembered for the reality that the GOP lost the Hispanic vote for at least a generation and the black vote likely forever by picking Donald Trump as its standard bearer, it will also be the election where the Democrats say goodbye to the Scots-Irish vote.
It will be the end of almost two centuries of ties that bind, but there is little doubt that Trump will sweep the Scots-Irish vote this election and the Democrats will fare worse than ever with them.
Guns, God and immigration are among Trump’s main selling points which play right into the conservative mindset of the South.
From the time of Andrew Jackson in the early 19th century, the Scots-Irish had followed the Democratic Party.
They found their hero in Jackson, founder of the party, a North Carolina native who was born just two years after his family arrived in the New World from County Antrim.
The Scots Irish were descended from Ulster planters who had been sent to Ireland from Scotland for the plantation of Ulster in 1609. Many struggled in the harsh environment of Ulster and with the Catholic hatred of those who had taken their lands.
America was opening up at the time and some 250,000 Scots-Irish planters and workers took the opportunity to reach the New World.
Most arrived in Pennsylvania but later spread down through the Shenandoah Valley and all over the unpopulated south. Many took to the backwoods and became known as Hillbillies after their love for King William, who won the Battle of the Boyne.
Jackson and his mostly Scots-Irish army famously defeated the British at the battle of New Orleans in 1812, and the Scots-Irish supported him all the way to the White House. The Democrats and Scots-Irish seemed forever bound.
Even tighter ties resulted when the Civil War erupted. It was a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who prosecuted the war, making it even clearer that the Democrats who opposed a war over the issue of slavery and state’s rights were the natural party of the Scots-Irish.
Democrats then were for “the store owner, the logger, the small business.” Then in times of hardship there were the Roosevelt New Deal policies that kept many Scots-Irish from starving.
The great split began in the 1960s with the JFK/Lyndon Johnson Civil Rights laws which saw southerners deeply impacted by the leftward move of the party.
Along came Richard Nixon to further feed the trend of conservative Scots-Irish moving away, and the South suddenly saw long-time Democratic senators like Strom Thurmond begin changing parties.
As The Washington Post recently reported, “Today, the Scots-Irish form the cultural core of the white, Southern Republican vote that is being heavily courted by GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump – and energized by anger at the government and support for conservative stances on guns, abortion and immigration.”
Even though Bill Clinton managed to win their vote, he was likely the last Democratic president who ever will. “It’s my culture,” former Virginia senator Jim Webb told the Post.
“Few key Democrats seem even to know that the Scots-Irish exist, as this culture is so .... individualistic that it will never overtly form into one of the many interest groups that dominate Democratic Party politics,” Webb wrote. “The Republicans understand them.”
Trump will win them over in huge numbers it seems certain, and the Democrats will likely bid farewell to a core group that once stood by them. Such is American politics in 2016.