It’s John Kerry’s fault. It’s Gavin Newsom’s fault. It’s the Democratic Party’s fault. It’s the fault of the New York Times. None of this is so, though of course it would be satisfying to find a scapegoat. Over at n+1, Ben Kunkel has argued, much more plausibly, that it’s the fault of the people who voted for Bush. They are, he points out, adults.
Still, there’s a widespread sense that this result isn’t just bad news, that it has to be explained. There’s been a rash of speculation about how to put the results in historical context. In particular, people seem newly fascinated with the eternal problem of how political parties correspond to one another and to themselves across time. Does the Republican party of George W. Bush have anything to do with the Republican party of, say, Parke Godwin? (Who? Yes, exactly.) A lot of this is cartographical. Which earlier map does the map of the 2004 election most resemble: free states vs. slave states in 1860 (neato mouse-over version here), the 1896 contest between William McKinley vs. William Jennings Bryan (map here), or, somewhat less persuasively, Woodrow Wilson vs. Charles Evan Hughes in 1916? Others prefer maps with non-historical correlations. Princeton’s Robert J. Vanderbei has put put together a map that displays both voting results and population broken down by county, and in a chart for the 2000 election, someone has correlated college education and Gore vs. Bush votes.
It’s my suspicion that if you could map by state the data contained in this report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, you might find something even more interesting. Unfortunately, it’s beyond my abilities as a research geek to figure out how to extract that information from their dataset, even though it’s publicly available. My short answer is this: reading, as a means for understanding the world, is in precipitous decline in America, both in newspapers and in books. I think we are living through a shift in the culture that has been lamented, minimized, ignored, and explained away. It needs, however, to be understood.