By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
But then, as the most cursory inspection of an Election Day map of both presidential and congressional voting makes clear, we now have two Americas, separate geographically and equal numerically. The Democrats’ America begins with the Boston--Washington corridor, moves inland through those Midwestern states that are the most industrial and cosmopolitan, and runs almost the entire length of the Pacific Coast, from Seattle through San Diego. It also includes Florida, though that may not be reflected in Al Gore‘s electoral vote, and probably New Mexico, the nation’s most Latino state.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but virtually every place else is Republican. States that have almost always gone Democratic for economic reasons -- poor, white, Protestant West Virginia, for instance -- went Republican for cultural reasons. A bellwether state like Missouri went Republican while the nationwide popular vote was going Democratic: To be Middle American in election 2000 was to come down in the GOP column.
Some political analysts have looked at the exit polling and proclaimed an end to economy-driven voting in America. That clearly overstates it. The lower a family‘s annual income, the more likely it was to vote for Gore. Indeed, Gore’s 54 percent support within the $15,000--$30,000 income grouping was 6 percent higher than his overall total, a differential that‘s slightly higher than that for any Democratic presidential nominee in the past quarter-century.
But in this prosperous time, sharper differences are emerging in noneconomic categories -- between rural and urban America, gun owners and nonowners, churchgoers and secularists, whites and nonwhites, white Protestants and everyone else. The 14 percent of voters who attend religious services more than once per week gave Bush 63 percent of their vote and Gore 36 percent; the 14 percent who never attend split their vote Gore 60--Bush 32. And the idiocy of rural life, to borrow Marx’s happy phrase, seems to matter more and more. Among rural voters, for instance, Jimmy Carter‘s 1980-level support was just 2 percent under his overall percentage; Michael Dukakis got 44 percent of the rural vote and 45 percent of the total vote; Bill Clinton’s rural vote lagged his national vote in his two presidential elections by 4 and then 5 percent. Last week, Al Gore got just 37 percent of the rural vote while pulling in 48 percent of the urban -- an 11-point gap. Conversely, in cities with populations exceeding 500,000, Dukakis ran 17 percent above his overall national level of support, Clinton 15 and 19 percent in his two elections, while Gore ran a full 23 points ahead of his total percentage.
Which is to say, John Dos Passos‘ description of the America of 1927, in the wake of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution, still pertains: ”All right,“ he wrote, ”we are two nations.“
Indeed, it pertains anew.
For, in 1927, the fault lines dividing America were also chiefly cultural and ethnic, and they pitted farm against city, heartland against coast. Old-stock Protestant America was in arms against the Catholic and Jewish immigrants who‘d transformed the big cities over the preceding quarter-century. During the ’20s, this conflict all but destroyed the Democratic Party as a force in national politics -- until the Depression and the New Deal brought town and country together in a new, enduring, class-based alliance.
In many ways, American politics today look surprisingly as they did 75 years ago. Now as then, the triumph of capitalist values mutes economic differences and drives the Democrats rightward. Now as then, the media‘s influence over the young is worrisome, particularly to traditionalists. Now as then, the political gap between cities teeming with immigrants and a largely white hinterland continues to grow, and the balance of power between town and country seems about even. (In last week’s vote, the 29 percent of voters from cities gave Gore 61 percent of their vote; the 28 percent from rural areas and small towns gave Bush 59 percent.)
The main difference between now and then is suburbia -- a place that scarcely existed in the ‘20s but that’s home to 44 percent of American voters today. The reason last week‘s election was so close was that, while town and country were busily canceling each other’s votes, the suburbs were splitting down the middle (49 percent Bush, 47 percent Gore). But parity in the ‘burbs doesn’t mean we‘ve effectively returned to the bad old days that Dos Passos chronicled. America is far more tolerant today than it was in the ’20s, and far more supportive of government action to secure civil rights, a safe environment and economic well-being. Absent a distinct threat to any of those three, however, public support for significantly more government action isn‘t likely to grow.
Does that mean we’re stuck at parity between the two parties and between two divergent sets of beliefs? I doubt it -- because even if the attitudes of individual Americans hold steady, American demographics are changing all the time. The number of Latino voters continues to rise, and this was a group that gave Al Gore 67 percent of its vote last week. Moreover, as Jim Chapin notes, in the fastest-growing states -- Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada -- Bush‘s vote, compared to Bob Dole’s four years ago, scarcely increased at all. By contrast, the Republicans registered their greatest gains in those states whose populations are in relative decline: chiefly, West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Over the next quarter-century, assuming all else remains static, what the Democrats have going for them are immigrants and nonwhites. What the Republicans have going for them are, well, cows.
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