The papers all lead with a presidential election so close it’s not over yet. They also report, however, that Republicans retain control of the House and Senate, that Hillary Clinton’s win of a New York Senate seat was not even breathtakingly close, and that Mel Carnahan’s win of a Missouri Senate seat was not even breathtaking.
The presidential news changed so much that earlier headlines, like the early bird Washington Post’s “BUSH, GORE BATTLE IT OUT DOWN TO WIRE,” and USA Today’s “BUSH, GORE IN CLIFFHANGER,” went from looking accurate to hopelessly overwhelmed by subsequent events to, by dawn’s early light, accurate again. Later headers, like the New York Times’s late metro edition’s “BUSH APPEARS TO DEFEAT GORE” not to mention WSJ.com’s “BUSH WINS THE PRESIDENCY” don’t look nearly as pretty on that pillow next to yours this a.m. Indeed, NYT sources report that the top Times editor, Joseph Lelyfeld, actually got to shout “Stop the Presses” to keep a Bush-wins edition off the streets.
But you can’t blame the papers. If ordinarily they drive the news cycle, when it comes to elections, the gears are in reverse and they have to follow the networks and their polling operations, and so, quite apparently, do the candidates. Thus it was that, in a night that saw the networks put Florida in the Gore column, then put it back in the tossup column, then put it in the Bush column, then put it back in the tossup column, most papers couldn’t even report that Al Gore had made a concession phone call to George W. Bush. He had, but before a single tree could be killed, he called him back to un-concede.
For all the complications Ralph Nader caused, a WSJ story says that he “flagged at the finish line” and only drew about 2 percent of the national popular vote, well below the 5 percent he needed to win federal funding for the Green Party next time around. That means, adds the paper, given Pat Buchanan’s even more negligible vote-getting, that in 2004 no third party will be getting federal aid.
Follow-up re Hillary Clinton’s victory: The WSJ seems to miss the point a bit and for good measure to be hideously chauvinistic when it runs this headline: “NEW YORK WIN EXTENDS BILL CLINTON’S INFLUENCE.” And about that picture of Hillary on the USAT front–the one where she looks like Jack Nicholson as The Joker being stabbed with a cattle prod laced with meta-amphetamines–c’mon, guys, there had to have a been a somewhat more flattering photo available!
If, through no fault of their own, the papers weren’t able to tell us what happened, they do take it upon themselves to explain why. Both the NYT’s R.W. Apple and the WP’s David Broder take front space to sift through exit poll interviews. To Broder, it looks as if two different nations voted yesterday: men, small towns, small population states, and people over 60 all trended toward Bush, while women, big cities, big population states, people under 60, and union members trended toward Gore. And Apple notes that three-fourths of those self-identifying as white, religious, and right-wing voted for Bush. The suburbs split evenly between the two candidates. Apple goes highest with the assertion that although both candidates won overwhelming majorities among voters from their own parties, neither swayed a majority of independent voters. He also concludes that “President Clinton appeared to have been a drag on” Gore, noting that one in five voters said they cast their vote to register opposition to the president. A USAT effort on the exit interviews adds that most whites, marrieds with children, weekly churchgoers, and pro-life types voted Bush while their opposite numbers mostly voted Gore. Issues-oriented folks, the piece adds, favored Gore; personality-oriented folks favored Bush.
Broder writes that two-thirds of the voters thought the country was on the right track economically and that Gore was much preferred by them, but almost as many thought morally the reverse was true and that Bush was much preferred by them. He concludes from this that “it was the moral dimension that kept Bush in the race.” Of course, he could just as easily (and should) have added that it was the economy that kept Gore in the race.
Broder says Bush benefited from an upward shift in the income level of the electorate: Four years ago, people whose families made less than $50,000 made up 61 percent of the voters, but this time their share dropped to 46 percent. A USAT news section “cover story” on lessons learned from the campaign sums this point up nicely: “It’s not just the economy, stupid.” Other scholia include: the debates helped the less-skilled debater, Bush, because expectations of his performance were so low, and that Clinton’s influence on Bush’s centrism and drag on Gore shows that not being on the ballot doesn’t mean you don’t dominate the election. (The paper version of the USAT story says there are nine such lessons, but online there are only eight.)
The NYT’s Apple, noting that most of the final polls taken Sunday and Monday came remarkably close to the actual state votes, says that one of yesterday’s clear winners was the political polling trade. Maybe so, but two topics the papers don’t address much today but surely will in the days ahead are: What is and what’s wrong with the methodology that 1) the networks use to “call” states, and 2) the pollsters use to predict turnout?