The 49 Percent Nation


National Journal, June 9, 2001, volume 33, issue 23, page 1710


The United States at the end of the 20th century was a nation divided down the middle. In 1996, Bill Clinton was re-elected with 49.2 percent of the vote. That same year, Republicans held the House, as their candidates led Democrats by 48.9 percent to 48.5 percent. In 1998, Republicans again held onto the House, as their candidates led in the popular vote by 48.9 percent to 47.8 percent. On November 7, 2000--although the final result was not known until five weeks later--George W. Bush won 47.9 percent of the vote, and Al Gore won 48.4 percent. The same day, House Republican candidates led Democrats by 49.2 percent to 47.9 percent.

Round off these numbers, and you have 49 percent, 49 percent, 49 percent, 49 percent, 48 percent, 48 percent, 48 percent, 49 percent, 48 percent--essentially the same number over and over. We haven't had such stasis in successive election results since the 1880s, which was also the last decade when a President was elected despite trailing in the popular vote, and when the Senate was equally divided between the two major parties.

Halfway through the 1990s, no one foresaw this result. Both parties had reason to believe they could forge majority coalitions by 2000. Republicans believed that their 1980s presidential majorities (which averaged 54 percent to 43 percent) and their 1994 congressional majority (52 percent to 45 percent) represented a fundamental Republican majority, which could sweep the presidential and congressional races. Conservative strategist Grover Norquist argued that there was a majority "leave-us-alone" coalition of economic and cultural conservatives, which Republicans, if they framed the issues skillfully, could summon into being. Newt Gingrich looked past his disappointment at Bob Dole's defeat, confidently predicted that a Republican President and Congress would be elected in 2000, and said he looked forward to serving his last term as Speaker in 2001-02, working with a Republican President.

At the same time, Democrats believed that Bill Clinton's high job-approval ratings (at the 60 percent level from 1995 through 1998) and his 50 percent-plus showings in most polls against Bob Dole represented a fundamental Democratic majority that could sweep the presidential and congressional races. Liberal columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. argued in his book They Only Look Dead that there was a natural majority for moderate but activist government, which Democrats, if they framed the issues skillfully, could summon into being. Democrats looked past their disappointment at not recapturing the House in 1996, confidently predicted that a Democratic President and Congress would be elected in 2000, and looked forward to eight years of Al Gore following eight years of Bill Clinton.

But neither majority materialized. Bill Clinton survived impeachment and continued to receive 55 percent to 60 percent job-approval ratings. But Democrats failed to win back the House in 1998. Republicans held onto majorities in both the House and the Senate that year, but their failure to gain seats in the House led to the ouster of Newt Gingrich as Speaker. Then, in 2000, neither side won a majority in the presidential election, or in races for the House.

We have now had three straight presidential elections and three straight House elections in which neither party has won 50 percent of the vote. The last time there were three straight presidential races without a majority was 1884-92. The last time there were three straight House faces without a majority, aside from 1910-16 and 1890-98, when there were many third-party Progressive and Populist candidates, was apparently (data are not easy to come by) in the 1880s.

Both parties have strong incentives to amass a popular majority, and have striven mightily to do so. But in 2000, both failed. The Republicans failed to reproduce the Reagan-Bush majority, and the Democrats failed to produce a Clinton-Gore majority. At the beginning of the 1990s, it was conventional wisdom that the Republicans had a lock on the presidency and the Democrats had a lock on Congress. In 1995, some thought the Democrats had a lock on the presidency and the Republicans had a lock on Congress. Now no one has a lock on either.

That is evidence of strongly held partisan attachments, on both sides. One of the unsung features of the politics of the 1990s and 2000 has been the re-emergence of straight-ticket voting, which is more pronounced than in any decade since the 1940s. From 1968-92, Democrats ran stronger and Republicans ran weaker in congressional elections than in presidential elections. Now, with ticket splitting in decline and straight-ticket voting the rule, both parties have been winning 48 percent or 49 percent in both presidential and congressional elections.


To see how the political changes of the 1990s have left us a closely divided nation, compare the results of the 1988 and 2000 presidential elections. In 1988, the elder George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis 53 percent to 46 percent; in 2000, George W. Bush tied Al Gore 48 percent to 48 percent. Nationally, the Republican percentage was down 5.5 percent, the Democratic percentage up 2.7 percent. This might be taken as a show of the weakness of George W. Bush and the strength of Al Gore and the record of the Clinton-Gore Administration. But it should be kept in mind that the factors of peace and prosperity worked for the Republican ticket in 1988 and worked for the Democratic ticket in 2000.

In past decades when the peace-and-prosperity advantage swung from one party to another in a few years, the swing in party votes was much higher. Peace and prosperity favored the Democrats in 1964 and the Republicans in 1972. Between those two elections, the Republican percentage was up 22.2 percent and the Democratic percentage down 23.6 percent. The fact that the party percentages changed much less between 1988 and 2000 is evidence of the strength of party allegiance and the stubbornness of political attachments.

But, that said, the changes in party preference that did take place between 1988 and 2000 were far from evenly distributed. There were stark differences between the largest metropolitan areas--those with more than 2 million people--and the rest of the country. The figures below show the percentages for the two major-party candidates in 1988 and 2000, in the major metro areas and the rest of the country. They are roughly equal in size: The major metro areas cast 46 percent of the nation's votes in 1988 and 45 percent in 2000.

                               1998           2000               DIFFERENCE
                             R       D       R        D                 R       D
U.S.                   53.5   45.7   48.1   48.3             -5.4   +2.6
Major metro       50.6   48.5   40.8   55.3             -9.8   +6.8
Rest of country   55.9   43.2   54.0   42.5             -1.9    -0.7

The picture may be clearer if we subdivide each of these categories. Among the major metro areas, let us distinguish between the seven most-populated and the next 16. And for the rest of the country, let us distinguish between the North and the South.

                                    1998           2000       DIFFERENCE
                                 R         D       R       D         R       D
U.S.                         53.5   45.7   48.1   48.3    -5.4    +2.6
Top 7 major metro   49.5   49.8   36.7   59.6   -12.8   +9.8
Next 16                   51.9   47.1   44.8   51.0    -7.1    +3.9
 major metro
Rest of the               54.7   44.5   52.8   42.8    -1.9     -1.7
Rest of the
 South                     57.7   41.6   55.7   42.1    -2.0     +0.5

The top seven major metro areas. (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington.) In these vast, sprawling major metro areas, places where people have almost no personal contact with major elected officials, places with sophisticated, cynical, secular voters, Clinton-Gore Democrats made major gains in the 1990s; indeed, these areas account for most of the Democrats' percentage gains in the entire country.

Here, Clinton's performance got high approval, and his personal peccadilloes raised few hackles. These are not places where Al Gore's "people vs. the powerful" theme had much appeal. They are the most-affluent parts of the country, where voters in the 1990s saw gains not only in income, but also in wealth: Housing values are high and stock ownership widespread. Opposition to tax increases helped Bush here in 1988; but in 2000, increased wealth meant that tax cuts had relatively little appeal.

At the same time, they are also metro areas that for decades were plagued by high crime and welfare dependency, factors that increased the appeal of Republicans here in the 1980s. But with the sharp drops in crime and welfare dependency in the 1990s, these issues faded and the Democrats were no longer vulnerable on them. These seven major metro areas were evenly split between Republicans and Democrats in the 1988 election but gave Al Gore a 23 percent margin in 2000.

The next 16 major metro areas. (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, St. Louis, San Diego, Seattle, and Tampa-Orlando.) In many respects, these metro areas are similar to the more populous ones. But in other respects, they're not: People are closer to elected officials, and they tend to be somewhat less affluent, less secular, and less cynical. Some (Minneapolis, St. Louis) have major anti-abortion movements; some (Dallas, Denver) have had an influx of culturally conservative young families.

In some of them (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Miami, Phoenix, San Diego, Tampa-Orlando), the Democratic gain between 1988 and 2000 was as great as in the top seven major metro areas. In others (Cleveland, Seattle, St. Louis), Democrats gained only 1 percent to 4 percent in that period. And in six of these major metro areas (Dallas, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Portland), Gore actually had lower percentages than Dukakis had. Note that all but one of these last five are in states where Bush in 2000 ran ahead of his father.

Rest of the North. Here voters are more anti-corruption, tradition-minded, and religious than the national average. They reacted negatively to Bill Clinton's personal conduct and to his cultural liberalism on such issues as abortion rights, gay rights, and gun control. Clinton-Gore positions on the environment were unpopular in many parts of the West, the Farm Belt, and the eastern coal country.

In places where the Democratic Party has been traditionally strong for historical reasons--because of Civil War loyalties, the union organizing drives of the 1930s, agrarian radicalism--there were major Republican gains. Lumberjack Democrats, mineworker Democrats, country-music Democrats--all surged toward Bush.

Rest of the South. The non-metropolitan South has been voting for Republican presidential candidates since 1972--and, in some cases, since 1964. What is interesting here is that the parts of the South hot in major metro areas are now voting for Republican congressional candidates as well. The Tennessee-born Gore made only the most minor of gains here over Massachusetts-born Michael Dukakis, and those gains did not matter much in the Electoral College: The presidential race was close in no Southern state except Florida.

These countervailing shifts in partisan preference created a new political map in 2000, a map that puzzled many of the election experts. Florida, which voted 61 percent for George H.W. Bush in 1988, was the No 1. target state of both candidates in 2000, and the result, as the world knows, was excruciatingly close. The reason is simple: 53 percent of Florida's votes were cast in major metro areas--the Gold Coast running from Miami to Palm Beach County, and the Interstate-4 corridor from Tampa-St. Petersburg to Orlando. These metro areas showed some of the sharpest shifts to the Democrats in the 1990s: 14 percent in the Gold Coast, and 10 percent in the I-4 corridor

New Jersey, one of George H.W. Bush's best mega-states in 1988, is almost totally included within two of the top seven major metro areas; it was so heavily Democratic in 2000 that it was not a target for either campaign. In Illinois, which the elder Bush narrowly won in 1988, 63 percent of the votes are in metro Chicago, and another 5 percent are in metro St. Louis; Illinois was Al Gore's strongest Midwestern state all along. In California, which went comfortably for the senior Bush in 1988, 68 percent of the votes are in metro Los Angeles and San Francisco, plus 8 percent in metro San Diego; in 2000, the junior Bush spent $20 million there and Gore zero, but Gore carried it 54 percent to 41 percent.

But changes in partisan preference in the parts of the country not in major metro areas favored Bush in 2000. He carried West Virginia with its five precious electoral votes, a state that since 1928 has voted Republican only for incumbent Presidents winning landslide victories. He carried Al Gore's Tennessee and Bill Clinton's Arkansas. He came within 1 percent of carrying Iowa, Wisconsin, and Oregon--which together had as many electoral votes as Florida--all of which went for Michael Dukakis and against the elder Bush in 1988.

It was almost as if two different Americas were voting. In one America, in the major metro areas, the choice between Gore and Bush looked almost as stark as the choice in 1964 between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater. Gore carried Manhattan 80 percent to 14 percent, and Los Angeles County 64 percent to 32 percent; Johnson carried Manhattan 81 percent to 19 percent, and Los Angeles County 57 percent to 43 percent. In another America, in the rural areas and some of the fast-growing metropolitan fringes, the choice between Bush and Gore looked like the choice in 1972 between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. Bush carried 30 counties in Kentucky with bigger percentages than Nixon, including four ancestrally Democratic counties carried by McGovern; he carried Idaho 69 percent to 28 percent, and Montana 58 percent to 33 percent, compared with Nixon's 64 percent to 26 percent in Idaho, and 58 percent to 38 percent in Montana.

There will be some who say that the closeness of the 2000 election, and the fact that both major parties have been consistently winning 49 percent and 48 percent of the vote is happenstance, that different results were possible in 2000, that the final tie vote was the result of contingencies that could have turned out differently. But a strong case can be made that Bush and Gore were probably their parties' strongest candidates and that both campaigns, with just a few exceptions, did a good job of targeting states, often against the conventional political wisdom.

In a competitive political marketplace, two parties with generally competent candidates will come up with campaign strategies that tend to maximize their support. These candidates did that, and ended up with 48 percent each. That, and the results of the 1996 and 1998 elections, suggests very strongly that when we are looking at repeated 49 percent and 48 percent results, we are looking at something pretty fundamental. The nation is divided right down the middle, not deeply perhaps, but at least very evenly.


What is it that divides the two nations? What demographic factor separates voters more than any other? The answer is: religion. White voters who identified themselves as members of the Religious Right--14 percent of the electorate--voted for Bush by 80 percent to 18 percent. Jews--4 percent of the electorate--voted for Gore by 79 percent to 18 percent; and those with other non-Christian religions or no religion--15 percent of the electorate--voted for Gore by 61 percent to 29 percent. The difference in voting behavior between the Religious Right and non-Christians is bigger than the difference between blacks and whites. These are the groups on the outer edges; look now at the larger masses.

White Protestants--56 percent of the electorate--voted for Bush by 63 percent to 34 percent. White Catholics--25 percent of the electorate--voted for Bush by 52 percent to 45 percent, despite the historical preference of Catholics for the Democratic Party. One of the untold stories of the campaign is how the Bush forces worked subtly through little-publicized channels to win over strong, tradition-minded Catholics, obviously with some success. Those who attend religious services weekly or more often--42 percent of the electorate--voted 59 percent to 39 percent for Bush. Those who attend religious services seldom or never--another 42 percent of the electorate--voted 56 percent to 39 percent for Gore. The middle group, the 14 percent who said they attended religious services monthly, voted 51 percent to 46 percent for Gore.

The same picture emerges from the post-election survey conducted by the University of Akron, and sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The survey separated Americans into 14 different groups, based on religious belief and practice. Distinctions were made between different kinds of Protestant denominations (evangelical and mainline) and, in some cases, between more- and less-observant members of a group; more-observant were those who reported church attendance once a week or more often. The results are arrayed in the following table, according to the percentage of the two-party vote cast for George W. Bush.

                                                                       BUSH   GORE
Mormons                                                             88%  12%
White Evangelical Protestants, more observant      84     16
White Mainline Protestants, more observant          66     34
White Mainline Protestants, less observant            57     43
Roman Catholics, more observant                         57     43
White Evangelical Protestants, less observant        55     45
Roman Catholics, less observant                           41     59
Seculars                                                               35     65
Hispanic Protestants                                             33     67
Other Christians                                                   28     72
Hispanic Catholics                                                24     76
Jews                                                                    23     77
Other non-Christians                                            20     80
Black Protestants                                                   4     96

More than hall, 54 percent, of Bush's voters were more-observant Protestants or Catholics; only 15 percent were blacks, Hispanics, or non-Christians. More than half of Gore's voters, 51 percent, were blacks, Hispanics, or non-Christians; only 20 percent were more-observant Protestants or Catholics. Although they may be uncomfortable with the fact, Americans increasingly vote as they pray--or don't pray.

To put it another way, the two Americas apparent in the 48 percent to 48 percent 2000 election are two nations of different faiths. One is observant, tradition-minded, moralistic. The other is unobservant, liberation-minded, relativistic.

One nation was repelled by Bill Clinton--his frequent lies, his fundraising scandals, his affair with a White House intern, his lies under oath in a U.S. District Court proceeding. The other nation was pleased with Bill Clinton--his charm and fluency, his support of feminism and gay rights, his closeness to Hollywood figures--or was ready to subordinate any personal distaste to satisfaction with the peace and prosperity, the steep declines in crime and welfare dependency, that occurred during his presidency.

The first nation saw in Al Gore many of Clinton's deficiencies; the second nation saw in Gore many of Clinton's strengths. So it makes sense that the major metro areas--less observant, more relativistic--trended toward Gore, and the rest of the country--observant, moralistic--trended toward Bush.

Interestingly, the specific issues on which these groups are most deeply divided are issues that were seldom mentioned by either candidate in the campaign, issues that they addressed with obvious reluctance in the debates. The issues are abortion rights, gun control, and the environment.

In the mid-1990s, Democrats were slavering at the prospect of making these major issues. They were convinced that abortion rights, gun control, and the environment would sweep many voters their way. And, indeed, they did--or, rather, had. But by 2000, the gains Democrats hoped for on these issues had already been made. The places where their positions on abortion rights, gun control, and the environment were popular were, by 2000, safely Democratic-California, New Jersey, the major metro areas. But these issues were also unpopular in significant portions of target states--among the large anti-abortion movements in Minnesota and Missouri, among hunters in Pennsylvania and Michigan, among voters who believed Clinton's environmental policies were threatening their way of life. Voters in eastern Washington and Oregon felt threatened by the proposal to breach dams on the Shake River to protect salmon; voters in West Virginia and Kentucky felt threatened by restrictions on the use of coal; voters in the Rocky Mountain West felt threatened by land-use policies that fenced off grazing land and protected the grizzly bear; voters in the Farm Belt felt threatened by EPA's proposal to regulate nonpoint source pollution--which, put in plain English, meant that farmers would have to get an EPA permit every time they used a new fertilizer.

They were aggrieved, in other words, by what they saw as a busybody Democratic government that was trying to impose the values of the major metro areas on their local communities, to impose the values of one nation on another. On these issues -- abortion rights, gun control, the environment--the Clinton-Gore government was practicing, or was seen to be practicing, a kind of cultural imperialism.

The Gore nation wants abortion rights honored, guns outlawed, and the environment protected by regulators. The Bush nation believes that abortions are immoral, guns part of a healthy way of life, and the land and water best protected by those who use them every day. The two nations divided by these issues have diametrically opposite views of what is decent and moral, just as they have diametrically opposite views on Bill Clinton's personal morality, and Al Gore's assertion that he was under "no controlling legal authority."

This brings to mind the famous passage from Benjamin Disraeli's novel Sybil, published in 1845, just after the Chartist movement led great marches against the British government. "Our Queen," says Disraeli's character Egremont, "reigns over the greatest nation that has ever existed." "Which nation?" Morley, the Chartist agitator asks, "For she reigns over two." Egremont seemed puzzled. "Yes," Morley goes on. "Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws."

"You speak of?" Egremont asks. The answer, in bold capital letters: "THE RICH AND THE POOR." In early 21st-century America, the divide is not economic, but cultural. But there are two nations, of almost equal size, between which there is little intercourse and sympathy, which are ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, which "are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws." They are as different as Bill Clinton's preferred vacation spot, Martha's Vineyard, and George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.


George W. Bush now has the opportunity to govern in a way that will extend his party's base, as Clinton extended his party's base in the 1990s. Bush starts off without a reliable national majority, but so did Clinton.

There may be an analogy here with the last time the American political balance was so even, the 1880s. Then, Americans were divided by a central non-economic issue, the Civil War. But in the 1890s, other issues came along--free silver and hard money, protectionism and imperialism--that shifted the balance. The key figure was a President seldom remembered today, but often cited by Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove. William McKinley was elected and re-elected with a bare majority of 51 percent. But he used the new issues to break across the old cultural barriers and establish the working Republican majority that prevailed for the long generation from 1896 to 1930. Rove believes that Bush can do the same.

The cultural divisions will remain. Abortions and guns will never be outlawed; neither nation will ever see its demands fully satisfied. But the saliency of those issues may decline, and other issues may take their place. There is a common theme to all of the major Bush domestic proposals, on education, Social Security, Medicare, and taxes, which is to provide citizens with more choice and to rely less on centralized authority. When Bush was trailing in the polls in early September, he put up ads that explicitly presented the election as a contest between more choice and more government, and his standing rose. This is in line with the increasingly decentralized character of' American society, and responsive to the fact that we are, in important ways, two separate nations who live uncomfortably together.

Postindustrial America, in many ways, more closely resembles the decentralized, culturally divided preindustrial America that Alexis de Tocqueville described in Democracy in America than it does the industrial America in which the generation of George W. Bush, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton grew up--an America that seemed culturally homogeneous, and economically and governmentally centralizing. In this view, George W. Bush, though he won fewer votes than Al Gore, is more in line with the grain of American history.

That means, among other things, that the Bush Administration is less likely to practice the kind of cultural imperialism practiced by the Clinton Administration. The Bush nation is less inclined to want to change the Gore nation--indeed, it despairs that it cannot change the Gore nation--than it is to simply want to be left alone.

The passage of restrictions on abortion, and even the repeal of Roe vs. Wade by a new Supreme Court majority, would leave the current American abortion-rights regime largely intact: Abortions will still be widely available, though there may be a further decline in their number. We will continue to have the current gun control regime, in which about 50 percent of the people live in the 33 states that allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns, and about 50 percent live in the 17 states that don't (not surprisingly, most of the former voted for Bush and most of the latter for Gore). As for the environment, urban-based environmental activists will be unhappy, and will prosper from direct-mail campaigns seeking contributions. But Bush policies will reduce the discontent over attempts to change local ways of life.

Bush's proposals for education seem unlikely to invade local autonomy or to impose one nation's values on the other. He seeks greater accountability and testing, and, in fact, American education has been moving, rapidly in some states, fitfully in others, in the same direction. We will get less of centralized bureaucracy trying to impose values from Washington. The Democratic policy followed for the past 30 years--pump more money into schools, and prevent them from being held accountable for results--is increasingly regarded as bankrupt, and would have been at least modified even if Gore had won.

Bush's major economic initiatives--on taxes, Social Security, and Medicare--have some potential for increasing support for Republicans in the major metro areas where they lost ground in the 1990s. Affluent suburban voters may hot be particularly eager for tax cuts today. But once they get them, they may be wary that the Democrats will raise rates if they get back in--the posture on the tax issue that favored the elder George Bush in 1988.

Providing individual investment accounts as part of Social Security should appeal most to younger voters who have become accustomed to accumulating wealth by investing in the stock market. Here is a reform that goes very much with the grain of life in major metro America, and hot against the grain in the rest of the country.

Similarly, on Medicare, the Bush reform would provide the elderly with more choices of medical insurance, and replace a system that is centrally directed and therefore inefficient and inherently unable to keep up with technological and scientific advances. And since the incredibly complex and rigid Medicare regulations currently tend to govern the dispensing of medical care to all patients, a more supple, adaptable Medicare would produce better results for everyone in ways that may become visible over time. The Clinton health care finance plan failed in 1994 in large part because it attempted to impose a single system on a nation that has, in effect, many health care finance systems. A health care finance plan that allows more choices is more likely to be found acceptable in such a nation.


Demography is moving, slowly, toward the Bush nation. Some Republicans look with foreboding at the major metro areas where they have fallen behind the opposition. Who cares if you make gains in West Virginia when you lose ground in California? But the major metro areas are not growing as fast as the rest of the country; they cast a smaller share of the nation's votes in 2000 than in 1988.

The 2000 census showed the trend. If the electoral vote had been based on the reapportiomnent mandated by the census and announced in early 2001, George W. Bush would have won hot 271 electoral votes, but 278. Except for California, he carried all of the states that gained House seats--Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas. Most of those that lost seats were carried by Gore.

The Americans of the Bush nation tend to have more children than the Americans of the Gore nation, and the communities of the Bush nation tend to welcome growth while the communities of the Gore nation tend to limit it: California's culturally conservative Central Valley is growing faster than the culturally liberal San Francisco Bay area.

The fastest-growing parts of the United States are formerly rural counties on the metropolitan fringe, beyond the edge-city office centers, and are now filling up with family-sized subdivisions, outlet shopping malls, and booming mega-churches. Though many of these are within the boundaries of major metro areas, these counties tend to vote strongly Republican; and, with their growth, they have produced Republican majorities almost large enough to offset the Democratic margins in heavily black or culturally liberal central cities. These are places such as Collin County, Texas, which grew by 86 percent in the 1990s, and voted 73 percent to 24 percent for Bush; Forsyth County, Georgia, which grew by 123 percent, and voted 78 percent to 19 percent for Bush; and Douglas County, Colorado, which grew by 191 percent, and voted 65 percent to 31 percent for Bush. These edge counties are usually ignored by reporters and political scientists, who can't imagine living in such places, but they are in many ways the cutting edge of America, the wave of the future.

The two Americas face no revolution like the one Disraeli feared; for the most part, Americans leave plenty of space for their fellow citizens to live as they want. But our politics, in these mostly placid times, will continue to register the angers and the passions that are aroused when one of our nations seems to be threatening to use government to impinge on the other.

The prospect ahead is for close elections, closely divided Congresses, bitterly fought battles over issues and nominations. The two nations with two different faiths will continue to live together, mostly peaceably--economically productive, militarily powerful, culturally creative, often seeming to be spinning out of control, but ultimately stable--as two nations united by the politics that seems to divide us.