In 1981, around fifty conservative southern Democrats in the House of Representatives, the so-called Boll Weevils, played a crucial role in the enactment of President Ronald Reagan’s economic agenda. The significance of this episode has thus far been underappreciated. This article illustrates the importance of the Boll Weevils’ support to the early success of Reagan’s presidency, as well its implications for both the South’s political landscape and for the national Republican Party.
Though short-lived, this coalition would prove to be a significant rupture in the Democratic Party’s superiority in the South at the congressional level and highlighted the partisan fragmentation the region was undergoing. As this article will demonstrate, the events of 1981 returned southern conservatism to the center of power in Washington for the first time in over a decade and acted as a catalyst for a number of southern Democratic congressmen to move toward the GOP.