George Will

     That is how a Massachusetts Democrat runs for president when he knows that four of the last five Democrats elected president were from Southern or Border states (including Harry Truman from Missouri). But although Kerry's platform is militantly bland, politics has been becoming less so for more than a generation.

     In House and Senate votes in 1970, when Vietnam divisiveness was at its peak and the polarizing Richard Nixon was in the White House, about one-third of all votes found a majority of one party opposed by a majority of the other. By 1998 the partisanship was more severe, with half the votes involving opposed majorities. In that year 98 percent of Republicans voted for at least one of the four articles of impeachment against President Clinton; 98 percent of Democrats voted for none.

      James Q. Wilson and Karlyn Bowman, writing in the Fall 2003 issue of The Public Interest, say that American politics -- and journalism -- are both  experiencing a ``profound'' case of what is known in business as ``market segmentation.'' Voters, and especially ``more educated voters,'' are much more comfortable than they were a generation ago with ideological labels and much more apt to pick their party on the basis of its ideology. The existence of Fox News and public broadcasting news testifies to large ideological blocs of news consumers.

     The segmentation of the national political market is much as it was four years ago. Yes, eight of the nine states where Bush was weakest in 2000 (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont)  elected Republican governors in 2002 or 2003 (California, by recall). And yes, these eight have a quarter of the nation's population and almost half (46.7 percent) of the electoral votes needed to win (126 of 270). But Bush is unlikely to carry any of them. None of the eight has voted Republican since 1988.

     It is commonly said that ``9/11 changed everything.'' But it did not really change the basic fact of today's politics. Even before 9/11, the 57-point disparity between Bush's support from Republicans (88 percent) and Democrats (31 percent) was larger than any polling had ever recorded for any president. Strange but true: The 36 days following the 2000 election -- Florida -- may have had a bigger impact on American politics than did Sept. 11, 2001.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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