Despite rapid economic growth and staggering demographic changes, the South has found it hard to shake the image that it is, in the words of historian Dewey Grantham, "the region most sharply at odds with the rest of the nation." Cultural uniqueness is credited with keeping the region conservative, and racism is often cited as the persistent force that drives Southern politics.
Indeed, the Republican Party's rapid rise and the Democratic Party's equally fast descent have long been credited to Barry Goldwater's vote against the Civil Rights Act in 1964. President Lyndon Johnson's observation that when he placed pen to the bill, he cost the Democrats the South for a generation has often been used to support this thesis.
Two political scientists, Byron E. Shafer and Richard Johnston, challenge the notion of regional distinctiveness and the centrality of race to Southern politics in their meticulous study, "The End of Southern Exceptionalism." They scour reams of electoral returns -- this book is a sweet fix for political junkies -- to challenge the theory that the Republican Party is nothing more than the remnant of the old conservative Democratic Party. It is a compelling, if not always clear, argument that at some levels builds on the existing literature on Southern politics.
The central, though unidentified, voter in this study is the Yellow Dog Democrat -- those Southerners so aligned with the party that they would vote for a yellow dog if it were the party's nominee. The book explores the forces that distanced such voters from the Democratic Party (in which race was central) and the issues that then attracted them to the Republicans (race was less important here).