Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Static Cling

Stuart Rothenberg wonders if Anyone Can Bring America Together in an Era of Division? In the piece, he shows that Obama's election was not in fact a unifying event and that the country still remains deeply divided, especially among cultural lines:

The country's deepest and most-explosive division revolves around culture.

Four in 10 voters attend religious services at least weekly, and they went for John McCain, 55 percent to 43 percent. Almost an equal number of voters, 42 percent, said they attend religious services only occasionally, and they went for Obama, 57 percent to 42 percent. And among those voters who never attend religious services, Obama won by 37 points, 67 percent to 30 percent.

On guns, another longtime indicator of cultural values, divisions remain deep. A substantial 42 percent of Americans own guns, and they voted for McCain, 62 percent to 37 percent. Those voters who don't own a gun, 58 percent of all respondents in the exit poll, went for Obama by 32 points, 65 percent to 33 percent.

No word on how the "bitter" demographic voted. Those numbers are rather shocking and show that Obama did little to bridge the cultural chasm. Rothenberg also dismisses the notion that Obama's victory--while substantial in the electoral college--was a sweeping mandate for change.

Further, the size of Obama's victory and the nature of the problems that he will confront don't suggest the end of division.

Obama's 53 percent victory was a solid win, far more decisive than the last two presidential elections. But it was hardly a blowout.

His apparent margin of 6.8 points (based on near-final numbers from CNN) was well below the true landslide margins in Richard Nixon's and Ronald Reagan's re-elections (23.2 points and 18.2 points, respectively), but it also was below Bill Clinton's re-election (8.5 points). Maybe more importantly, it was significantly below Reagan's margin over Jimmy Carter (9.6 points) and slightly below George H.W. Bush's 7.8-point margin in the 1988 open-seat race.

In other words, America did not "come together" to elect Obama. The country was divided, and while most Americans now hope that he can solve the nation's problems, the new president's choices will invariably require him to make trade-offs -- trade-offs that are likely to anger some, maybe many, Americans.

Obama's campaign didn't do much to unite the country. It will be a tall order for his presidency to do any better at truly bringing Americans together.


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