Republican and Democratic signs are in place for voters at Casey Elementary School during Mississippi's Primary Election Day, Tuesday, August 6, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Based on polling, more people identify as conservative in Mississippi than in any state in the nation.

According to Gallup, which routinely does extensive polling asking people to self-identify as liberal, conservative or moderate, 50% of Mississippians say they are conservative while only 12% say they are liberal in one of the recent polls.

The poll results encapsulate the difficulty facing Democrats in winning elections in Mississippi. In general, white Mississippians who identify as conservative vote Republican. The same might not always be true for Black Mississippi conservatives, who often remain loyal to the Democratic Party based at least in part on the opposition of some in the Republican Party to voting rights and other integration efforts beginning in the 1960s.

Those poll results highlight the headwinds facing Democratic candidates, such as Brandon Presley who is vying this year to be the first Democrat elected governor since 1999.

And the poll results provide insight as to why Democratic candidates, sometimes to the chagrin of Mississippi’s small but vocal liberal community, often campaign as conservative on various issues. The argument that Mississippi Democrats would win if they only campaigned as true Democrats, i.e. liberal Democrats, loses much of its validity when considering the voters of the state.

Based on the poll, Mississippi is the nation’s only state where a majority of its people identify as conservative. Mississippi’s four contiguous states also are among the 10 most conservative, with Alabama being No. 2 with 46% of its population identifying as being conservative and 14% as liberal. All of the top 10 most conservative states have Republican governors and legislatures.

It is important to note that when it comes to actual voting, Mississippi is high but not in the top 10 in terms of the percentage of its population voting for the Republican candidate. Mississippi had a lower percentage voting for Donald Trump for president than did the contiguous states of Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama. What is unique is that based on studies by the FiveThirtyEight blog, which compiles and analyzes data, Mississippi voters are the least persuadable in the country. In other words, it is more difficult to convince people who normally vote Republican to vote Democratic and vice versa.

Is it a surprise that Mississippians are set in their ways?

Despite the daunting data, many in recent years have speculated that Mississippi might be in line to follow Georgia, North Carolina or even Texas and become more electorally competitive. Remember Georgia now has two Democratic U.S. senators, and by a narrow margin voted for Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. President Barack Obama won North Carolina.

With the nation’s highest percentage of African American residents (about 38%), many surmise that Mississippi will be the next Southern state to enter swing state status.

A 2021 article in Politico titled, “The Southern state where Black voters are gaining in numbers, but not power,” argued that Mississippi is not — at least not yet — entering swing state status. The article pointed out that Mississippi does not have the population centers and large college-educated suburbs that have trended toward the Democratic Party.

But the article did cite a little hope for Mississippi Democrats. DeSoto County, for years considered one of the state’s bedrock Republican areas, ranked 30th in the nation of counties that swung toward the Democrats in 2020. DeSoto County still voted for Donald Trump, but the drop in Trump votes from 2016 to 2020 was significant.

In 2016, Trump won DeSoto County by 67% to 31%. In 2020, Trump won 61% to 37%. Hey, DeSoto County still went big-time Republican, but the Democratic inroads in the Memphis suburban county in northwest Mississippi did garner some national attention.

Democrats also performed better in 2020 than in the 2016 presidential election in what has been another Republican suburban stronghold: Madison County.

And one year earlier in 2019, former Attorney General Jim Hood became the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to win Madison County since 1987. The south Madison County area has a high number of college-educated suburban voters who have tilted Democratic in other areas of the nation in recent election.

While the Hood performance in Madison County provided a glimmer of hope for Mississippi Democrats, it is still worth noting the area still tilts conservative. South Madison County is home of the largest congregation in the state to leave the United Methodist Church because the local church members viewed the denomination as too liberal.

In other words, Mississippians of a broad spectrum of class and education level view themselves as conservative.

That is the headwind Mississippi Democrats will be facing this November.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.