Saturday, 3 January 2004

Book review

As I discussed here, I’ve been reading Black and Black’s The Rise of Southern Republicans, which is described by one blurb writer (Dick Fenno, I think) as the intellectual successor of V.O. Key, Jr.’s legendary Southern Politics in State and Nation. The Rise of Southern Republicans is both a descriptive account of, and an explanation for, what the Blacks term a “semi-realignment” wherein conservative southern whites largely realigned (permanently changed their party preferences) from the Democrats to Republicans, while moderate whites were dealigned from the Democrats (became more independent “swing” voters).

Suffice it to say that the Blacks’ book is generally quite excellent, and—like their other books—a must-read for anyone who wants to understand contemporary southern and American politics. That being said, there are a few noteworthy weaknesses:

  • The book almost exclusively focuses on elections to federal office (the House and Senate); there is little discussion of the continued persistence of majorities of Democrats in many southern state legislatures, despite realignment at the federal level, nor are gubernatorial politics discussed. Then again, the book is bulky enough as-is.
  • On occasion, I felt like I was being subjected to a “stat dump”: a long series of statistics from survey evidence about the attitudes and behavior of various subgroups of the electorate. This information would perhaps have been better presented graphically or in tabular form (Black and Black do make extensive use of figures to illustrate their points throughout; why these items weren’t presented that way as well is something of a mysery).
  • While some chapters discuss senatorial politics while others discuss elections to the House, the chamber being discussed isn’t clearly identified by the chapter names—as a result, you sometimes start reading a chapter and immediately think “hmm, isn’t this the same thing they were discussing in the last chapter?”

Still, these are all nitpicks. It’s definitely a worthwhile read, and—unlike most books by political scientists—it’s accessible to general readers.