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The End of Southern Exceptionalism

The End of Southern Exceptionalism

Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South

Byron E. Shafer, Richard Johnston

ISBN 9780674032491

Publication date: 03/31/2009

The transformation of Southern politics after World War II changed the political life not just of this distinctive region, but of the entire nation. Until now, the critical shift in Southern political allegiance from Democratic to Republican has been explained, by scholars and journalists, as a white backlash to the civil rights revolution.

In this myth-shattering book, Byron Shafer and Richard Johnston refute that view, one stretching all the way back to V. O. Key in his classic book Southern Politics. The true story is instead one of dramatic class reversal, beginning in the 1950s and pulling everything else in its wake. Where once the poor voted Republican and the rich Democrat, that pattern reversed, as economic development became the engine of Republican gains. Racial desegregation, never far from the heart of the story, often applied the brakes to these gains rather than fueling them.

A book that is bound to shake up the study of Southern politics, this will also become required reading for pundits and political strategists, for all those who argue over what it takes to carry the South.


  • Political scientists, following one argument advanced in V.O. Key's 1948 classic Southern Politics, have long declared that the increasing Republicanism of the American South was a response to racial issues. Now Byron Shafer and Richard Johnston present a new view in The End of Southern Exceptionalism. Noting that Key also argued that economics affected Southern politics, they use election and polling data to show that the increasing Republicanism of the South has been primarily a response to the vast economic change in the region since 1948. Their argument is convincing, and will be as important in assessing Southern politics as Key's.

    —Michael Barone, Senior Writer, U.S. News & World Report, co-author of The Almanac of American Politics 1972–2006, and author of Our Country: The Shaping of American from Roosevelt to Reagan


  • 2007, Winner of the Best Book Award in Race, Ethnicity, and Politics


  • Byron E. Shafer is Glenn B. and Cleone Orr Hawkins Chair of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Richard Johnston is Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia.

Book Details

  • 240 pages
  • 5-3/4 x 8-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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