In this autumn's elections, a tendency is in tension with a rarity. The party holding the presidency has lost House seats in 32 of the 34 off-year (non- presidential) elections since the Civil War. So the Republicans' majority in a House divided 223-210 is in danger. But rarely do parties gain seats in four consecutive elections. Democrats gained in the last three.
A shift of six seats would make Dick Gephardt speaker, but could make George W. Bush's re-election easier. He could blame Democratic control of Congress for all discontents. And if Democrats control both houses, re-electing Bush would satisfy the voters' preference for divided government, which they have produced in 13 of the last 17 elections.
However, in an eye-opening new book, "The Emerging Democratic Majority," John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, both Democrats, argue that whatever happens in November, powerful demographic and social currents will soon produce what their title announces. If that majority materializes, its crucial components will be professionals, women and minorities. Its geographic base will be in what Judis and Teixeira call "ideopolises," which are metropolitan areas characteristic of the postindustrial America that has supplanted the America of farms and factories.
Professionals are white-collar, highly trained, credentialed people such as teachers, engineers, architects, computer analysts, physicians (about 40 percent of them are salaried employees), certified nurses. Almost 20 percent of professionals are unionized. For various reasons, professionals tend toward libertarian social policies, secularism and the Democratic stance toward regulatory capitalism. Most have voted Democratic since 1988.
In 2000, professionals were 15.4 percent of the work force but 21 percent of the turnout nationally. Professionals are concentrated in ideopolis counties, often around large universities. (Together with Milwaukee, Dane County, home of the University of Wisconsin, casts 26 percent of the state's votes.) In the 1990s ideopolis counties--the 236 with the highest concentrations of high-tech and information-technology employment--grew 23.2 percent, compared with the average growth of all counties of 11.1 percent. The average population of the ideopolis counties is 475,000, compared with the 90,000 average for all counties.
Ideopolises cast 43.7 percent of the national vote. California's San Mateo and Santa Clara counties--Silicon Valley, which Ronald Reagan carried twice but Michael Dukakis carried easily in 1988--are archetypal ideopolises. But far more revealing, and ominous for Republicans, is the Chicago ideopolis.
The hog butcher and wheat stacker? Not anymore. Between 1970 and 1997 it lost 60 percent of its manufacturing jobs--and today its metropolitan area has the highest number of high-tech and information-technology jobs of any metropolitan area. Al Gore carried Chicago 80-17. Chicago is in Cook County, which has 40 percent of the vote in a bellwether state that voted with the winner in 21 of 25 20th-century presidential elections. Walter Mondale carried the county by just 2.6 percent in 1984. But Gore won it 69-29, and ran remarkably well even in affluent "collar counties" around Cook. In 1988 Vice President George Bush carried Lake County 64-36. His son carried it 50-48. In 1988 Bush carried Will County 59-40. His son carried it 50-47.
In 1988 Bush carried Arizona's Maricopa County (Phoenix) 65-34. Twelve years later his son carried it 53-43--a 21-point Democratic swing. In northern Virginia's booming Fairfax County, Bush in 1988 won 61-38. In 2000, Bush squeaked by 49-47, with 3 for Nader. In Franklin County, Ohio--Columbus, with Ohio State University--Bush won 60-39 in 1988. In 2000: Gore 49, Bush 48, Nader 3. Republicans carried New Jersey, another bellwether (it voted with the winner in 22 of the 25 20th-century elections), in six consecutive elections from 1968-88, but never since then.
Women with college degrees voted 57-39 for Gore. Women with advanced degrees voted 63 percent for Gore. Hispanics are the minority growing fastest both in absolute numbers and as a portion of the population. In one quarter of the 435 congressional districts there are more than 100,000 Hispanic residents. Hispanics are 29 percent of the potential electorate in Texas, 28 in California, 21 in Arizona, 16 in Florida, 15 in Colorado, 14 in New York-- states with 166 electoral votes. Hispanics favor Democrats.
The GOP is the party of the religiously observant. Those who attend religious services once a week favored Bush over Gore 57-40. Those who say (there is some fibbing about church attendance) they attend more than once a week favored Bush 63-36. But the fastest growing category are those who rarely or never attend--up from 18 percent of Americans in 1972 to 30 percent in 1998. They favor Democrats.
The most important political number is 270. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic in the last three presidential elections. In 2004 their combined electoral votes will be 260. Republicans have work to do, beginning with a book to read.