Gore Carries the Porn Belt

November 10, 2000

This election was about culture above all.

 

Pretty much everyone guessed wrong on the election results. The professors with their economic prediction models had Al Gore at 55% to 60% of the popular vote. Most of the national pollsters had George W. Bush leading by two to nine points. The anti-Clintons, who said Mr. Gore would pay the price for Bill Clinton's misdeeds, could see no evidence of backlash.

 

But in the Oct. 23 New York Times appeared a shaded map of the United States that bore an eerie resemblance to Tuesday night's results. In an article headlined "Technology Sent Wall Street Into Market for Pornography," the map shows by region the percentage of sex movies in the home-video market. Mr. Gore carried the areas with the highest percentages (40% on the West Coast and 37% in New England and the Middle Atlantic states); Mr. Bush carried the area with the lowest percentage (14% in the South), and they split the rest of the country that had middling sex movie percentages.

 

It sounds ridiculous, but there's a grain of truth in those comparisons. Mr. Bush carried married voters 53% to 44%, led by a similar margin in homes with children under 18, and won the "religious right," 79% to 18%. He won the South 54% to 44% and lost the Northeast 37% to 56%. His was a culturally conservative vote. And character did matter: Among voters who said they wanted an honest and trustworthy president, Mr. Bush won 80% to 15%. People who attend church weekly backed Mr. Bush 57% to 40%.

 

A few other patterns emerged: Mr. Gore ran strongly with the quarter of the voters with incomes under $30,000: Mr. Bush ran better than Mr. Gore with the other three-quarters. Democrats voted for Democrats and Republicans for Republicans in overwhelming percentages. And the "gender gap" is real and very deep. According to exit polls Mr. Gore won women 54% to 42%, and Mr. Bush won men 52% to 43%.

 

Other comparisons paint a murkier picture. Consider three important quality-of-life indicators measured state by state: five-year per capita income growth, the crime rate and the percentage of births to teenage mothers. List the 50 states and the District of Columbia in order for each, and we see that economic growth seemed to matter: Messrs. Bush and Gore evenly split high-growth states, while Mr. Bush carried 11 of the 15 low-growth ones. The crime rate didn't seem to matter: Highercrime states favored Mr. Bush, but not by very much. More puzzling, he also won 20 of the 25 states with the highest percentage of births to teen mothers.

 

In short, the 2000 election was not primarily about "the economy, stupid," nor the efficiency of government, nor the number of programs proposed or their cost, nor just how government should be reinvented. It was about values like the quality of education, family and ethics, and the character and trustworthiness of the man who will next lead us. Those are not bad ways to pick a president.

 

It is also clear that these concerns are not evenly spread across the country. There are indeed two Americas, one bicoastal, urban, industrial, and politically very liberal; the other rural, with smaller cities and towns, traditional beliefs about family and morality, and a moderate-to-conservative political outlook.

 

Regardless of whether Mr. Gore is successful in his attempt to overturn the result in Florida, this basic division is going to bedevil American society for some years to come. The Democratic Party is being pushed left. Mr. Gore, as either president or leader of the party, is more liberal than Mr. Clinton; newly elected senators like Hillary Clinton and Jon Corzine are very left. People in the rural center will not take kindly to this leftward tilt and will be in continual tension with the other America.

 

The fate of Republicans, now holding even slimmer and more difficult margins in the House and Senate, lies almost wholly in the hands of Mr. Bush. Assuming he becomes president, the Republican majorities may yet meld into an effective fighting force in the major political battles for the commanding heights of public policy-- Medicare drug benefits, Social Security reform, tax reduction and a better education for children in catastrophically poor schools. If the courts make Mr. Gore president, congressional Republicans will need to rally around a strong leader to craft a strategy and seize the high ground, never an easy thing for legislative bodies to do.

 

Even to take small steps regarding these issues, the election of Mr. Bush is essential, for he at least will command a majority in the Congress that he can use to accomplish policy changes. Mr. Gore, constantly pressed by liberals, unions, and minorities to move left, and with a Congress of the other party, would have a much more difficult time. The voters on Tuesday did not signal that they want massive new government programs, but they do want some things accomplished--help with their drug bills, a way out of the bad schools their kids are trapped in, or a chance to save for a better retirement. The next president had better accomplish them, and in a way that doesn't disgust that great middle America that we saw voting across our television screens on Tuesday evening.

 

Mr. du Pont, a former governor of Delaware, is policy chairman of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis. His column will appear Wednesdays.

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