, especially in the early 1980s, who voted in favor of Republican president Ronald Reagan
's budget reform
s despite being a member of the Democratic Party
There were between 30 and 60 Boll Weevil Democrats, almost all from the American South. They made Reagan's agenda possible; with their votes, Republicans could control the 435-seat House of Representatives despite being a numerical minority. Their numbers varied according to the specific issue being voted on and which session of the House you're looking at.
Boll weevils are insects that feed on cotton, one of the South's major agricultural parasites, and the "Boll Weevil" label was pejorative.
For more than a century, the South elected Democrats en masse -- Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and southerners had essentially not forgiven his party for the Civil War. So although the South has been (broadly speaking) more socially and fiscally conservative than the rest of the country, its representatives made formal federal recognition of civil rights for blacks possible (some militant "States' Rights" Democrats did revolt in the 1940s and '50s over the issue and become known as "Dixiecrats"), and more or less supported the growth of the welfare state with Democrat president Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" program.
Reagan's fiscal program essentially meant repealing the Great Society, while implementing large tax cuts and increasing defense spending to accelerate the arms race with the Soviet Union. Traditional Democrats opposed his plan vigorously, but many Southern Democrats, for whom party was a matter of convenience rather than ideology, were wooed into supporting him. Spending more on the U.S. military was especially popular; many Southern communities exist only because of military bases and defense contractors.
The influence of the Boll Weevils faded as Reagan's program became more entrenched. When the Republicans got numerical control of the House of Representatives in the "Gingrich Revolution" of 1994, what Boll Weevils remained became irrelevant.
Perhaps the best-known Boll Weevil Democrat was Phil Gramm, of Texas, who later went to the Senate as a Republican.