October 27, 2004
HOW DIVIDED ARE WE REALLY? I've heard a fair amount of overblown rhetoric on this election, along the lines of "this is the most divided electorate ever! Really? Ever looked at an electoral map of 1860?
Actually, the striking thing is how settled the electorate is. The last election where one party got less than 35% of the vote was 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party split the Republicans in two. Even during Reconstruction, when the Republican Party had basically disenfranchised the Democratic states, the popular vote totals were very close. Almost never does one party get more than 60%, or less than 40% of the vote.
We've had elections as close as the last one before, and we'll have it again (although not since the 1880s have two elections in a row been so closely contested.) The real issue is not that the popular vote totals are close, but that states are so closely balanced -- another situation that hasn't prevailed since the 1880s.
Why so close? Presumably it's because people are more mobile than ever before, which breaks down the regional affiliations that hauled solid electoral vote tallies out of close elections. So while some places are more solidly partisan than ever before . . . like, ahem, the places where all the media headquarters are . . . the real trouble is that key states are becoming less divided. I assume it makes people more tolerant, having members of the other party for neighbours, but I wouldn't know, having lived my whole life within one overwhelmingly liberal community or another.