How the South was Won

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Richard Johnston of the University of British Columbia and Byron Shafer of Wisconsin have written a book, The End of Southern Exceptionalism, which argues that the GOP took control of the South from Democrats (segregationist Dixiecrats) becuase of economic issues, not because of catering to white racism.

The fact that Harvard University Press dared to publish the argument is encouraging. Doubly so is that The Boston Globe, a subsidiary of the New York Times Company, published this positive account of the thesis.

The historic switch from blue to red over the past half century not only robbed Democrats of their assured congressional majorities, it shifted the center of Republican political power from the Northeast to the Sunbelt.

For all its importance, though, the story of how the Democrats lost the South is also one of the least examined—partly because so many people seem to agree on what caused it. For most, it boils down to one word: race. [....]

But a new book by a pair of political scientists aims to stand that conventional wisdom on its head. ''The End of Southern Exceptionalism" (Harvard), by Richard Johnston of the University of British Columbia and Byron Shafer of Wisconsin, argues that it was economics, not race, that upended the Southern apple cart. As the South boomed and Sunbelt cities added millions of suburban residents, they argue, its burgeoning middle classes naturally tilted to the Republicans' fiscal conservatism, which promised tax cuts and smaller government programs.

''The engine of partisan change in the postwar South was, first and foremost, economic development and an associated politics of social class," they conclude after sifting through reams of electoral and polling data. ''The impact of legal desegregation and an associated politics of racial identity had to be understood through its interaction with economic development." In other words, the Southern realignment wasn't about white racial backlash. Rather, it was about a new, middle—class South that focused mostly on economic issues and only secondarily on race.

Ed Lasky  3 08 06

Richard Johnston of the University of British Columbia and Byron Shafer of Wisconsin have written a book, The End of Southern Exceptionalism, which argues that the GOP took control of the South from Democrats (segregationist Dixiecrats) becuase of economic issues, not because of catering to white racism.

The fact that Harvard University Press dared to publish the argument is encouraging. Doubly so is that The Boston Globe, a subsidiary of the New York Times Company, published this positive account of the thesis.

The historic switch from blue to red over the past half century not only robbed Democrats of their assured congressional majorities, it shifted the center of Republican political power from the Northeast to the Sunbelt.

For all its importance, though, the story of how the Democrats lost the South is also one of the least examined—partly because so many people seem to agree on what caused it. For most, it boils down to one word: race. [....]

But a new book by a pair of political scientists aims to stand that conventional wisdom on its head. ''The End of Southern Exceptionalism" (Harvard), by Richard Johnston of the University of British Columbia and Byron Shafer of Wisconsin, argues that it was economics, not race, that upended the Southern apple cart. As the South boomed and Sunbelt cities added millions of suburban residents, they argue, its burgeoning middle classes naturally tilted to the Republicans' fiscal conservatism, which promised tax cuts and smaller government programs.

''The engine of partisan change in the postwar South was, first and foremost, economic development and an associated politics of social class," they conclude after sifting through reams of electoral and polling data. ''The impact of legal desegregation and an associated politics of racial identity had to be understood through its interaction with economic development." In other words, the Southern realignment wasn't about white racial backlash. Rather, it was about a new, middle—class South that focused mostly on economic issues and only secondarily on race.

Ed Lasky  3 08 06