Southern culture: The notion that we can understand quite a bit about contemporary American politics and culture by looking at the very old North/South divide is an intriguing one. In a data set of mine compiled from many sources, I included a measure of "southerness" put together by sociologist Raymond Gastil. He based it on populations originally from core southern states who had remained or migrated to other states, pretty much by the time of the Civil War.
Illinois, for example, gets a moderate score because of people like Abe Lincoln who were born in the south, but then moved north and putatively took some southern culture with them. This might explain Lincoln's almost fighting a duel with James Shields. Mountain states like New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada are other examples of states with moderate southerness scores. According to Gastil, early populations laid down the foundations of culture which have endured to some degree until the present time.
I looked at all counties with at least 250,000 people in 2000 (N =220) and calculated the correlations between southerness and a number of variables that might be influenced by culture.
Southerness index (Pearson correlation coefficients)
Okay to hit a drunk man who bumped into your wife .78*
Household gun ownership .65*
Homicide rate .49*
Suicide rate .36*
Percent Republican .24*
Alcoholic liver disease mortality rate .21*
* significant at the .01 level, one-tailed test
Guns and violence are closely related, but even alcohol abuse and suicide are significantly associated with southerness. I suspect that the percent Republican correlation is weak because the sample is limited to populous counties, so the range of the share of the population that is Republican is not as wide as it would be for all U.S. counties.
Some of the correlations would be smaller if we adjusted for percent black. Of course, sociologists--the braver ones, anyway--like to explain black violence in terms of "southerness." The others either say that the races do not differ in violence, only in being arrested for it, or that the social system is so unjust, it makes blacks go crazy and take out their anger on convenient targets. (They fail to mention, however, that their own theory implies that whipping up blacks with hypotheses of being exploited will likely contribute to the problem).
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