What a presidential election it has been. No living American has ever experienced anything remotely like its volatility, closeness, post-election indecision, and extended lack of finality. Just over 100 million Americans voted the first Tuesday in November, and we did not have a certified president-elect until late in the evening of December 12. And even then, the real margin of victory was a single-vote majority decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now that it is over, we can ask: What do the election results reveal about our nation? First, and very important, the peaceful transfer of such profound power speaks eloquently to the fact that we are still a people with a deep and abiding respect for the rule of law, even when we profoundly disagree with the result. As Vice President Al Gore stated in his concession speech, "Let there be no doubt; while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it." More about that later.

Second, the election results revealed profound differences and deep divisions among the American people--differences that transcend region and socio-economic status.

The very real regional and sexual differences among the electorate camouflaged even more profound cultural and values divisions among the American people.

For example, although Gore prevailed 54% to 42% among women, Bush carried married women 49% to 48% and women who don't work outside the home 52% to 44%. Among married voters with children, Bush won 55% to 41%, and among self-identified religious right voters (14% of voters) Bush won 79% to 18%. Gays and lesbians, meanwhile, voted for Gore 71% to 24%.

Bush won a majority of people who attend church more than once a week, while Gore scored heavily with those who rarely or never attend church.

Gun owners voted for Bush 60% to 36%, and yet you were more than six times as likely to be murdered if you lived in a county carried by Gore than if you lived in a county carried by Bush.

On cultural and values issues, two very different societies emerge. For example, in Bush country, abortion would be rare and stigmatized, there would be little serious discussion of recognizing same sex relationships, religious expression in public schools would not be controversial, and neither would gun ownership. In Gore country, the opposite would be true.

The nation did vote very differently by region, with the Mountain West, Southwest, South, and Midwest voting heavily for George W. Bush, and the Northeast, West Coast, and Midwest urban metropolitan areas voting for Gore. Thirty states voted for Bush (271 electoral votes) and 20 for Gore (267 electoral votes), and yet Gore won the total popular vote by approximately half-a-million votes.

The regional division in the nation is even more dramatically revealed in the county-by-county vote across the country. County-by-county election maps reveal a sea of Republican red, with strips of Democrat blue in the Northeast, the West Coast, the Mexican-American border, and islands of blue Democrat strongholds in major Midwestern cities and along the Mississippi delta. A three-dimensional map in the Washington Post is particularly revealing, with its dramatically soaring high-rise towers of blue Gore support in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Bush won counties with a total population of 143 million, while Gore's counties totaled 127 million. Significantly for future elections, Bush's counties grew by 14% in the last decade, as opposed to Gore's counties' 5% growth. The 2000 U.S. Census report reflects these growth patterns; states carried by Bush gained seven electoral votes, and states carried by Gore lost seven.

The nation also divided by sex, with 52% of men voting for Bush and 54% of women voting for Gore. The candidates' combined gender gap of 21% was unprecedented.

Clearly, these issues reflect deep and often polar-opposite differences on very important issues. How do we live together as one people while in such profound and delicately balanced disagreement? We do so by maintaining and nurturing a common commitment to the rule of law and peaceful change. We agree as citizens to do our best to persuade and convince each other of the rightness of our views, and we agree that when the elections are over they give us a barometer of how our efforts are progressing. Nevertheless, if we lose we agree to abide by the results and to redouble our efforts to change hearts and minds to our way of thinking and living by peaceful and persuasive means.

We must all dedicate ourselves to the nurture of a nation where we respect our differences--without fooling ourselves into thinking that our differences don't make any difference.

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