Applying Process Tracing for More Distinctive Causal Inference: Explaining Two Nixons on Civil Rights.
18 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2012 Last revised: 3 Aug 2015
Date Written: 2012
This paper contributes to the understanding of the making and breaking of candidates’ policy positions by applying process tracing method to a certain historical case.
The Puzzle: Historians assessing Richard Nixon’s position on civil rights have often been unimpressed. It is certainly true that Nixon sought to woo white Southerners in 1968, recognizing that, without their support, he couldn’t win the election. It is also true that he had won support from Southerners in 1968 in opposing school busing and judicial activism. However, it has often been overlooked that during the 1960 presidential election Nixon openly defended civil rights including his support of government action to ensure fair treatment in employment and education, and the fact that Nixon offered his strong support for lunch-counter sit-ins. The fact indicates clearly that Nixon had changed his position on civil rights sometime between 1960 and 1968. Why he changed his position on the issue are still open to further inquiry.
Preceding Studies: Political scientists have tried to explain Nixon’s defection from pro-civil rights position to con-civil rights position based upon several different theoretical predictions.
First, in The Making of the President 1960 (1961), White concludes “Nixon made his choice, I believe, more out of conscience that out of strategy.” Secondly, in The Persuadable Voter (2008), Hillygus and Shields claim that Nixon introduced a new, divisive issue into the prevailing policy dimension in 1968 seeking only to exploit cracks in majority coalition. Nixon’s shift was caused in viewing northern black voters as the critical swing voters in 1960 to viewing southern whites as necessary for his victory in 1968. In short, in 1968, Nixon raised the racial issue as a wedge issue that would divide and attract the alienated wing of the old Democratic majority coalition: the Solid Democratic South.
I evaluate none of prior explanatory hypothesis are sufficient in explaining Nixon’s change as both explanations fail hoop test: neither Nixon’s idea on civil rights nor his strategic maneuver can explain his change of policy position.
Methods, Data, and Findings Summary: With applying a method of Process Tracing to the case, I claim that the 1960 presidential campaign was a diagnostic piece of events that provides the basis for more distinctive casual inference in explaining Nixon’s change. I found that even before 1960, Nixon had little interest in defending civil rights, and in 1960, Nixon was already fully aware of strategic significance of white Southerners. It was also found that as a Republican presidential candidate in 1960, Nixon had to succeed Eisenhower’s “Modern Republican” effort to build the GOP into a more durable political organization. Hence, I hypothesize that the making and breaking of candidates’ policy positions would be more constrained by their relationship with political party.
Keywords: process tracing, qualitative method, Richard Nixon
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