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Inside NCR

It is late Thursday morning, pushing noon, and Toni-Ann Ortiz in production is beginning to glare through the glass that separates our offices. She needs the “inside box” as we call it around here. In just a few hours the driver will come to pick up the boards to take them to the printer, so NCR can roll off the presses and be turned over to the whims of the Postal Service.

And still we have no president-elect. Pundits say we don’t know when we’ll have a definite answer on the next president. But Toni has a deadline. So we, like the rest of the country, will just have to move on in the breach.

What is certain about the next president is that he will be dealing with a dramatically divided country.

Exit poll data shows that the electorate is deeply polarized. “I’m not sure if the American society in general is as deeply divided as the electorate,” said John C. Green, professor of political science and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, Ohio. “But in terms of the choice of vision offered by the two candidates, the country is very sharply divided.”

For instance, he said, there was a gender gap -- men voted for Bush and women voted for Gore. Sixty-one percent of those who never go to church voted for Gore; 63 percent of those who go to church more than weekly voted for Bush. Between those extremes -- as people attend church more or less -- the vote corresponds as you might expect.

White Protestants tended to vote for Bush, while black Protestants and Jews, as well as non-religious persons tended to vote for Gore.

These are not new divisions, notes Green, but they were more intense than usual this election.

Roman Catholics, once a pretty solid Democratic vote, were split between the two major candidates, according to exit polls -- 45 percent for Gore and 47 percent for Bush.

The conclusion for Green: This year, religious groups and religious belonging and practice did matter.

As significant, perhaps, as the divisions among the general populace are the divisions among religious groups. And that is one of the haunting elements of recent elections. Those who want to have some religious rationale behind their political involvement find the choices extremely frustrating. The abortion issue has a lot to do with that frustration: Those politicians who oppose it so often abandon many of the other mainline religious concerns, while those who oppose restricting abortion often champion many of the other issues embraced by those active in traditional social justice matters.

Whoever moves into the White House will have to deal with those deep divisions and an almost evenly split electorate. Congress is almost evenly split, and even the state houses, said Green, show an unusually even split between Democrats and Republicans.

It seems almost as if there were some country-wide subliminal wish for a kind of political deadlock, for creating the circumstances where no single candidate or group can claim much of a mandate or generate much support for moving very far from the status quo.

Said Green, maybe whoever finally wins this contest will have to put the laundry list of campaign offerings in his back pocket and pick one or two big issues -- something like prescription drugs -- and leave ambitious tax proposals or spending plans for another time. Right now, there appears to be little mandate to do anything.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, November 17, 2000