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For immediate use
June 2, 1999 – No. 359

 UNC-CH surveys reveal where the ‘real’ South lies

UNC-CH News Services

CHAPEL HILL – Ask even educated Americans what states form "the South," and you’re likely to get 100 different answers. Almost everyone will agree on Deep South states -- except maybe Florida -- but which border states belong and which don’t can be endlessly debated.

Now, the Southern Focus Poll, conducted by the Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provides strong support for including such states as Texas, Kentucky and Oklahoma in the South. On the other hand, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, Delaware and the District of Columbia don’t belong anymore, if they ever did.

Fourteen polls, surveying a total of more than 17,000 people between 1992 and 1999 show, for example, that only 7 percent of D.C. residents responding say that they live in the South.

Only 14 percent of Delaware residents think they live in the region, followed by Missourians with 23 percent, Marylanders with 40 percent and West Virginians with 45 percent.

"We found 84 percent of Texans, 82 percent of Virginians, 79 percent of Kentuckians and 69 percent of Oklahomans say they live in the South," says Dr. John Shelton Reed, director of the institute. "Our findings correspond to the traditional 13-state South as defined by the Gallup organization and others, but is different from the Census Bureau’s South, which doesn’t make sense."

The U.S. Census Bureau includes Delaware, D.C., Maryland and West Virginia in its definition.

"Clearly some parts of Texas aren’t Southern – whatever you mean by that -- and some parts of Maryland are," Reed said. "But sometimes you need to say what ‘the Southern states’ are, and this kind of information can help you decide. Our next step is to look inside individual states like Texas, break the data down by county, and say, for example, where between Beaumont and El Paso people stop telling you that you’re in the South."

A report on the findings, produced by UNC-CH’s Institute for Research in Social Science, will appear in the June issue of the journal "Southern Cultures." Reed, who directs the institute, says the results should interest many people including survey, marketing and census researchers.

"Personally, I think they ought to be interesting too to ordinary folk who are curious about where people stop telling you you’re in the South as you’re travelling west or north," he said. "Where that is has been kind of hard to say sometimes."

Perhaps surprisingly, 11 percent of people in Utah, 10 percent in Indiana and slighter fewer people in Illinois, Ohio, Arizona and Michigan claim to be Southerners.

"That’s because in the early part of this century millions of people left the South, and their migration was one of the great migrations not just in American history, but in world history," Reed said. "Their children may not think of themselves as Southern, but they still do."

The UNC-CH sociologist said he was surprised that 51 percent of Floridians describe themselves as Southerners even though 90 percent know their community is in the South.

"Florida is the only state in lower 48 where most people living there weren’t born there," he said. "In fact, most of them weren’t born in the South, much less in Florida."

Because of the South’s growing economy, only between 90 and 80 percent of residents of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia and the Carolinas said they are Southerners, the surveys showed.

"If you want to define the South as where people say it is, now we have a better sense of it," Reed said. "For the most part, it confirms what I already suspected, which is why I’m glad to see it. This work shows something we wanted to show, but haven’t been able to before."


Note: Reed can be reached at (919) 962-0781. E-mail:  Dr. Beverly Wiggins, associate director for research development at IRSS, can be reached at (919) 962-2350. E-mail:

Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596.