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Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Faue


From 1964 to 1984, the Democratic Party lost support in the white working class Detroit suburb of Warren, Michigan, as formerly loyal Democrats defected to vote for George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. This study examines three controversies that contributed to this "Democratic defection." The first was the 1970 effort by federal officials to require open housing in Warren in return for urban renewal grants. After months of debate, Warren's voters turned down the funds in a 1970 citywide referendum. The second controversy, over the war in Vietnam, reflected the division in the national Democratic Party, as antiwar Democrats contested the meaning of liberalism with the party's Cold War leadership. An antiwar protest march on the Warren Tank Plant in 1971 symbolized this division and provoked contention over the right of the marchers to carry the ''Viet Cong" flag. The third controversy involved the busing of school children between Detroit and its suburbs in the Bradley v. Milliken Detroit school desegregation case. Each of these controversies pitted the local community against policies with which the Democratic Party was in some ways identified. In addition, the recessions of the 1970s and early 1980s fostered a conservative reaction among voters by exerting pressure on two core institutions of working class life in Warren - the factory and the family. The Dodge Truck wildcat strike of 1974 illustrates the problems faced by both management and the union in absorbing a young, multi-racial workforce into the city's factory culture. While the recessions of 1973-1983 squelched this challenge to authority in the factory, they brought Warren's women into the paid workforce in greater numbers. The local women's movement fought for gender equity in the workplace and at home. After the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, however, the grass-roots organizing initiative passed to the conservatives, as the Right to Life movement attacked abortion and the women's movement in the name of defending the family. During the 1970s, Warren's "silent majority" became vocal, though its values and concerns were anti-liberal, reactive, and insular. This brought forth the New Right politics of the Reagan Democrats at the end of the decade.