The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South

The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South

The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South

The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South

Excerpt

identity as engines for partisan change. Moreover, race actually worked in a way that was opposite to the dominant argument in the literature of Southern politics: Republicans did worse among whites in areas with large black populations than in those without this implicit “threat” to continued white dominance.

Despite the obvious power of these two great social forces, economic development and legal desegregation, two key political factors—the provision of Republican challengers and, especially, the presence (or absence) of Democratic incumbents—still crucially shaped electoral outcomes. This led us to see whether the House analysis could be extended to the other major elective institutions of American national government, namely the Senate and the presidency. Accordingly, the second product of this accidental enterprise was a paper on class, race, and candidate impacts more generally, previewed at the 2002 meetings of the American Political Science Association (Shafer and Johnston 2002).

The parade of substantive surprises continued. In particular, Congress— both the House and, in a weaker fashion, the Senate—behaved very differently in institutional terms than did the presidency. While class continued to trump race as an engine for partisan change, race now worked, for the presidency, in the way that the existing literature suggested: whites in blacker areas were more likely to vote Republican. As a result, where analysis of the impact of two social forces in the House had brought political intermediaries back into the picture, this difference in voting behavior between Congress and the presidency brought institutional structures back into the story as well.

It also brought the analysis back around to the voting behavior that had started this entire progression. Needless to say, the ultimate registrar of all these influences in both of our papers—the place where the degree of their influence was effectively determined—was the mass electorate. As always, this electorate brought its own mix of background characteristics, social contexts, and, last but not least, individual policy attitudes to bear on its response. And the impact of this mix looked considerably different than it had when we began with two influences on one institution.

Both papers were honored by the section on Political Organizations and Parties (POP) of the American Political Science Association as the best paper of their respective years. Yet by the time we had drafted the second APSA paper, it was clear that these data contained further puzzles which we ourselves did not understand, and that their proper unpacking required simultaneous consideration of economic development, legal desegregation . . .

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