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Divided America Went to the Polls

November 8, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ American voters are a divided lot who can’t agree about much. By gender, by race, by income, by community, they have different priorities and voted very differently, producing divided government across the country.

Divided is the nation’s natural state of being, experts say. It’s a strong leader who pulls the factions together, they explained, but no such leader was on Tuesday’s presidential ballot.

``Sometimes candidates can find a way to appeal to people on both sides with bigger issues or sheer strength of personality,″ Larry Hugick, director of political polling at Princeton Survey Research, said Wednesday. ``In this case, people just voted their proclivities, and we ended up with about as close to 50-50 as you can get.″

With the presidential vote in Florida coming down to fewer than 2,000 votes, the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore remained too close to call. That, however, was far from the only squeaker. Democratic gains in the House and Senate meant congressional Republicans would have tiny margins with which to govern. In state legislatures, Republicans won a handful of victories and brought the parties close to parity in America’s statehouses.

The divisions are scattered throughout voter profiles produced in exit polls conducted by Voter News Service, a consortium of The Associated Press and the television networks. Among them:

_Women preferred Gore, and men liked Bush, reflecting a 20-year gender gap. But with the race so close, the ultimate winner will be the first clearly to have lost one of the sexes.

_Racial divisions ran deep. Bush took just over half the white vote, but Gore won 90 percent of black voters and 62 percent of Hispanics.

_The wealthiest voters, those earning more than $50,000 a year, chose Bush. Those making less picked Gore.

_City voters chose Gore, while rural voters picked Bush. The candidates split the suburbs.

_Regionally, voters in the South went strongly for Bush, and those in the East were solidly behind Gore. They split the Midwest, with the West leaning to the vice president.

_On issues, voters were split over a basic philosophical point: whether government should do more to solve problems, or whether it’s doing too many things better left to businesses and the individual. They were evenly divided between protecting the environment and promoting economic growth.

And there was no consensus over what the new president should make his top priority or how he should spend the projected budget surplus.

Within each slice of the electorate, the divisions run even deeper.

Across the board, rural voters were less optimistic about the future and more angry with President Clinton than those in the cities and suburbs. About 70 percent of rural voters disapprove of Clinton as a person, compared to 49 percent of city voters and 62 percent in the suburbs.

Rural areas are more culturally conservative than others, experts explained, and they haven’t enjoyed the same good economic times as others.

``It’s one area where the prosperity didn’t help the Democrats,″ Hugick said.

Across regions, voters are divided over the role of government and other matters. Nearly six in 10 Western voters say government is doing too much; in the East, about half want government to do more.

Southern voters, for their part, are more conservative, more likely to be Christian conservatives and more likely to own firearms. They’re also more likely to oppose new gun laws.

On race, one of the nation’s great dividers, a host of differences appeared.

Blacks overwhelmingly dreaded the prospect of a Bush presidency, even compared with other Democrats. They expressed overwhelming support for Clinton’s presidency and were the most likely to report improved finances over the last four years.

Like blacks, Hispanics saw major improvements in their finances. They also were the most optimistic about the next generation.

On issues, blacks were most likely to favor new gun laws. Asked what quality they were looking for in a president, one in four said someone who ``cares about people like me.″ Just 10 percent of white voters picked that as their No. 1 personal trait.

Two-thirds of the rich liked Bush’s plan for private Social Security accounts, while the poor were more divided. Reflecting their self-interest and the campaign’s themes, the poorest voters like Gore’s plan for targeted tax cuts, while the rich preferred across-the-board cuts.

On issues, women were most interested in education; men cared most about the economy. Women were more likely to want more government, not less.

The candidates perpetuate these divisions by appealing to voters based on parochial interests, said Ruth B. Mandel, a politics professor at Rutgers University. She noted that sophisticated targeting of radio ads, direct mail and phone calls allow campaigns to address individual interests.

``They’re not appealed to as often on the basis of the wide community,″ she said. ``Voters now think, `What are you going to do for me?‴


EDITOR’S NOTE _ Associated Press writer Connie Cass contributed to this report.

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