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The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001) 213-220

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How Does 2000 Stack Up?

Charles E. Cook Jr.

Although national elections are supposed to produce definitive winners and losers, this election was actually a tie. Politically speaking, America is split right down the middle.

Republicans won the electoral college vote for president, 271-266 (with one faithless Democratic elector), but Democrats won the popular vote, 49 percent to 48 percent. The Senate is 50-50 and Republicans have just a slight 51 percent to 49 percent edge (223 seats to 212 seats) in the House of Representatives.

At the state legislative level, the GOP controls both state legislative chambers in 17 states, while Democrats have both chambers in 16 states. Sixteen states have split control, and Nebraska has a nonpartisan, bicameral legislature. Overall, Democrats have a slight 52 percent to 48 percent advantage over Republicans in state legislative seats nationwide.

Only in governorships, where Republicans still have a 29-19 advantage (independents control the other two seats), does one party have a decisive advantage. Republicans will be forced to defend 13 open governorships in 2001 and 2002, with many of the class of 1994 governors having hit their two-term limits.

Thirty-nine percent of those who voted on November 7 told Voter News Service exit pollsters that they were Democrats; 35 percent considered themselves Republicans, and 27 percent independents. Ideologically, the Left, personified by Vice President Al Gore and Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, captured 52 percent of the popular vote; the Right, with Texas governor, [End Page 213] now president, George W. Bush and Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan, combining for 48 percent. Thus, we have found ourselves with a political equilibrium that is likely to remain in place until some political or external event upsets this balance.

As equally divided as this election was, it was the most partisan one we have seen in many years. It is extraordinary to see so few defections among partisan voters. Of the 39 percent who called themselves Democrats, Gore pulled 86 percent of the vote, not only higher than Bill Clinton in 1992 or 1996, but also the highest for any Democratic nominee in at least the seven elections beginning in 1976. Of the 35 percent who consider themselves Republicans, Bush won 91 percent, second only to Ronald Reagan's 92 percent performance among Republicans in his 1984 landslide win over former vice president Walter Mondale and tying Bush's father's support within the party against Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis in 1988. The partisans almost cancelled each other out. The larger base of Democrats gave Gore a narrow advantage over the even more solidified but smaller group of Republicans for Bush.

Bush edged out Gore by just two percentage points among independents, 47 percent to 45 percent, not quite enough to overcome Gore's small edge among partisans. The next closest split among independents during this period was in 1992, when Clinton beat then-President George Bush by six points among independents, 38 percent to 32 percent.

The Great and Growing Cultural Divide

The divisions among the electorate went far beyond the simple equation of Democrats backing a Democrat, Republicans supporting a Republican, and independents splitting down the middle. From 1968 through 1988, Republicans won four out of five presidential elections, losing only in 1976 after the Watergate scandal. During that period, a clear pattern emerged. Democrats routinely carried the big cities by huge margins and won moderately sized cities and towns by somewhat smaller margins. At the same time, Republicans won small-town and rural America by wide margins and carried the suburbs, where the largest segment of voters lived, by comfortable margins, giving the GOP their routine presidential victories.

That pattern changed in 1992, however, when the divide between urban and rural voters grew greater than at any point in modern history. Clinton's 58 percent in 1992 in the big cities (population more than 500,000) grew to 68 percent in 1996. Gore took a whopping 71 percent in these areas in 2000. Although he improved only a half-dozen...


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