Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: July 2014

6 - Reagan’s Sunbelt, Reagan’s America


The Sunbelt’s social, cultural, and economic development from the 1940s through the 1970s foreshadowed the region’s emergence as a nationally dominant political force during the 1980s and beyond. From roughly 1945 until the close of the 1970s, the Sunbelt was transformed into an economically vibrant, culturally diverse, and bitterly contested battleground on which many of the most divisive and important political struggles of the postwar era were waged. The Sunbelt’s development also correlated with an important trend in American politics – one in which the nation’s political culture, over time, came to resemble and reflect the Sunbelt’s. Put another way, by the 1980s, the Sunbelt seemed to encapsulate the very essence of American politics, if not American history more broadly – sentimentally patriotic, nostalgic, and dedicated to middle-class expansion on the one hand, divisive, polarized, and passionately contested on the other. These were not necessarily new characteristics in the history of American politics, but so far as the twentieth century was concerned, it was the contested but predominantly conservative nature of the Sunbelt’s development that entrenched these characteristics at the forefront of the nation’s political stage. If the first three decades following the end of World War II were a story about the Sunbelt’s remarkable rise from obscurity (or nonexistence) to prominence and power, then the last two decades of the twentieth century were a story about how the rest of the United States came to see the Sunbelt not as an anomaly, but as a pacesetter and role model.

Wills, Garry, Reagan’s America (New York: Doubleday, 1987)
Patterson, James T., Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 58–59
Farber, David, Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006)
Borstelmann, Thomas, The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011)
“The Sagebrush Rebellion,” U.S. News & World Report, December 1, 1980
Cawley, R. McGregor, Federal Land, Western Anger: The Sagebrush Rebellion and Environmental Politics (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993)
University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978)
Ball, Howard, The Bakke Case: Race, Education, and Affirmative Action (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000)
Kaufman, Burton I. and Kaufman, Scott, The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr. (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2006)
Drew, Elizabeth, Portrait of an Election: The 1980 Presidential Campaign (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981)
White, Theodore H., America in Search of Itself: The Making of the President, 1956–1980 (New York: Harper & Row, 1982)
Brady, John, Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater (Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1996)
Lamis, Alexander, ed., Southern Politics in the 1990s (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999)
Bridges, Kenneth, Twilight of the Texas Democrats: The 1978 Governor’s Race (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008)
Wilentz, Sean, The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974–2008 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008)
Cannon, Lou, The Role of a Lifetime (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991)
Troy, Gil, Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007)
Fischer, Beth A., The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997)