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Some pocketbook stats from the Institute for Southern Studies

Great food for thought. Also check out the latest newsletter by the institute, as well as its blog, Facing South.

INSTITUTE INDEX – A Bankrupt System

* Number of individuals who declare bankruptcy each year: 1.6 million
* Of 15 states with highest rates of personal bankruptcies, number in the South: 7
* Percent of bankruptcies that result from job loss, medical bills, or divorce: 90
* Rank of elderly among fastest-growing age group for bankruptcies: 1
* Percent that credit card debt increased for the elderly from 1989 to 2001: 149
* Amount consumers lose annually to predatory mortgages, payday loans, and other credit abuses: $16 billion
* Estimated annual profits of the credit card industry: $30 billion
* Amount in federal political contributions from banks and credit card companies over last six years: $101 million
* Vote of Senate Judiciary Committee in approving a measure to restrict ability of consumers to discharge debt through bankruptcy, now before the full Senate: 12 to 5

Sources on file at the Institute for Southern Studies.

The Insitute’s Chris Kromm has an excellent piece on the recent “New Strategies for Southern Progress” conference, held in Chapel Hill. It drew 200 Dem party leaders, academics, journalists and progressives. The tall order, Chris notes, was to “identify pragmatic and innovative solutions to the region’s toughest problems” and, more boldly, “chart a new progressive vision for the region.” There’s a bit of in-fighting over whether and how to court the “NASCAR dads”. One telling excerpt:

The differences came into focus on day two, during a panel charting the changing attitudes of the Southern electorate. The pollsters, consultants and academics honed in on a key reason for Democratic losses in the South: the defection of the white moderate. “We’ve lost the white working-class male,” said David “Mudcat” Saunders, the much-quoted Virginia consultant and ambassador of the “NASCAR dads” strategy.

Poll analyst Ruy Teixeira rolled out a compelling set of numbers to back up the claim: Although the ideology of the Southern electorate hasn’t changed over the last decade — it’s now 14 percent liberal, 41 percent moderate and 45 percent conservative, only a hair to the right of 1996 — voting patterns have. Bill Clinton got 46 percent to Bob Dole’s 44 percent of the Southern white moderate vote in ’96; in 2004 Kerry had a 58-to-41 deficit to Bush among the same voting group. Even accounting for Clinton’s Southern touch, it’s clear that Democrats have lost ground.

The rest of the discussion is quite interesting, and again, the idea that “cultural” issues must be catered to is the main theme. It’s such a third rail area that Chris’s article doesn’t even address gay rights issues. That must be beyond the pale for establishment southern Dems. Not good.

That said, I still think there is a formula that can reached the white “NASCAR” southerners and the black religious voter; Mel Watt surely does. My entry on this: Congressman Mel Watt (NC): framing gay rights for the black community

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding