THE DAY after the presidential election, the partisan lines were drawn across our nation and the map was permanently dyed in electoral shades of blue and red. It was a stark picture the networks showed us - a country split between two parties, two men, two ideologies. This picture was not only oversimplified and overstated, but it also created a grievous misconception about our nation: that these are colors that define us and divide us.
Simply because one state was dyed blue while its northern neighbor was dyed red does not necessarily mean that their people are impossibly divided over every vital issue - that's a sweeping generalization that just doesn't hold up to scrutiny.
This nation is a mix of many cultures - not just a homogeneous singular culture, and not just fractionalized groups living in different regions.
Inside this mix of cultures is a mix of ideas. Some believe strongly in protecting the environment, and some believe that businesses should be left alone. Some believe the state should take care of its people, and some believe the state should only take over where absolutely necessary.
During presidential election time, however, these outlooks must squeeze themselves into one of two personalities. The American people don't vote on the issues they care about - they have to vote for the one candidate who best embodies their views. That dichotomy may lead to what looks like a black and white picture of our nation's culture (or red and blue, if you will), but what's behind those votes is a complex combination of a candidate's strengths and weaknesses.
Some in California voted for Gore because of his stance on environmental issues, and some in New York supported him because of the economy.
Texans in big and small cities voted for Bush because of his friendly stance toward big business and especially oil. Some in the South voted for him because he touted a return of decency to the White House. Alaskans, Minnesotans, Georgians and even people from New Hampshire voted for Bush, but that doesn't mean they can all be lumped together in a sweeping character generalization. What the voting patterns demonstrate instead is that the American electorate is becoming more sophisticated - not less.
A Washington Post article reported recently that Americans are switching parties more than ever and breaking down the income divide as they do so ("Voter Values Determine Political Affiliation," March 26). Today voters are torn between voting their pocketbook or their moral conscience, according to Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California-San Diego. The article reports that there has been "a realignment of white, well-educated professionals, now one of the most reliably Democratic constituencies. But Republican loyalties have strengthened among small-business men, manager s and corporate executives."
It also had this little story to impart: "Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.), heavily dependent on support from upscale suburbs in his state, was asked recently on FOX News what concerned him about the Bush tax cut. Torricelli did not raise classic Democratic objections about failure to benefit those on the bottom of the economic scale. Instead, he proposed shortening the capital gains holding period for stocks - a concern of his more affluent constituents." One of the more interesting aspects of the study was a tidbit on religion - the more often a person goes to church, the more likely they are to vote Republican. But despite this odd fact, Bush was unable to mobilize large numbers with his "values" campaign, still losing the popular vote by over half a million votes. Explanation? There is no single variable that can predict a person's political stance.
Popular vote winner or not, however, our country remains united under one president. There were no violent riots in the streets when Bush was declared the winner; a new Civil War between rural and urban did not break out. People debated and complained about the political situation just as they always do - but no matter what their opinion on the outcome of the election, everyone respects the right of all Americans to vote.
Of course voters disagree on some issues, but if the last election proved anything, it's that there is no "most voters" category. The beauty of living in a free society is we don't have to agree on everything - a healthy debate is what continues to make our democracy work as well as it can for as many people as it can.
The map does look split when one only sees it in blue and red, but that's because those are the only colors people could pick. If everyone could design their own candidate, many of those areas would turn as unique a shade of purple as most voters are unique themselves.
(Emily Harding's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)