Many Americas

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This complexity shows up not only in the polls but at the polls. In Nevada, which went for Bush, an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing abortion rights was approved by popular referendum in 1990; two years later, an anti-abortion ballot initiative was defeated in another "red" state, Arizona. In "blue" California, voters have approved initiatives repealing racial preferences and bilingual education.

Even the juxtaposition of liberal urban centers and conservative small-town America turns out to be much too simplistic. (The staff and most of the contributors of National Review, for instance, actually live in debauched urban dystopias and visit solid conservative America for an occasional weekend.) While cities with a population of more than half a million are indeed a reliable Democratic base, giving only about a quarter of their votes to Bush, 40 percent of Americans in small towns voted for Gore. Besides, the big city–small town dichotomy leaves out the suburbs, where most Americans actually live and which, in Election 2000, were split right down the middle.

One intriguing trend is that, as David Brooks notes with some alarm in The Weekly Standard, the GOP is losing the "new economy" voters in affluent suburbs around the country and in information-age entrepreneurial hubs such as Silicon Valley. Many of these voters probably belong to the group the Pew Center classifies as "New Prosperity Independents": generally well-educated, affluent, not very religious, often plugged into the cyberculture, and inclined to be critical of government. Brooks suggests that, despite their libertarian leanings, these "bourgeois bohemians" are voting Democratic to reassure themselves that they haven’t "sold out" and are still faithful to their countercultural ideals. Another possible explanation is that many of them see Republican moral authoritarianism as not just profoundly uncool but hostile to the individual freedom that they consider genuinely crucial to their well-being.

It’s not only voting patterns and poll results that subvert stereotypes of the "cultural divide." It would hardly come as a surprise to anyone that the liberal enclaves of East and West are not necessarily havens of racial and cultural tolerance. Paul Begala’s catalog of "hate crimes" from states that voted for Bush could be easily matched by a similar list from states that voted for Gore: a shooting spree at a Jewish day-care center in California, a terrorist attack on an abortion clinic in Massachusetts, much racially motivated violence in New York.

By the same token, "real America" is not necessarily a haven of traditional morality: The New York Times article Pete du Pont cited as proof that Bush carried the regions with the lowest rates of sex video rentals also revealed that some ultraconservative counties where video store owners can still face obscenity charges for carrying X-rated tapes are among the most active consumers of pay-per-view adult fare on cable and satellite television.

Middle America may not even, alas, be a haven of rugged individualism. Midwestern voters who tell pollsters that they favor small government are in no rush to give up farm subsidies. One little-known irony of political geography is that the more conservative states tend to be among the top feeders at the federal trough. Bush won 25 of the 31 states that get more in subsidies from the federal government than they pay in taxes.

Forget about the "two Americas": There are many more than that. However uneasily they may coexist at times, e pluribus unum -- "out of many, one" -- is not just a motto. The electoral map has only two colors; our national palette has many more.

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