Divided Nation: 1992–2016

U.S. Presidential Election of 2000

2000 Presidential Election

In 2000 George W. Bush was elected the 43rd president of the United States though challenged by five weeks of recounts and court petitions on behalf of his opponent Al Gore.

The 2000 U.S. presidential election is generally remembered for its too-close-to-call outcome. The Democratic Party's nominee was Al Gore, vice president during the Clinton administration. The Republican Party's nominee was George W. Bush, two-term governor of Texas and the son of former president George H.W. Bush.

The candidates stayed true to their parties' platforms. Bush campaigned to shrink the size of the federal government and limit its interference in local matters, such as education. He advocated the use of standardized tests to judge public schools' performances. Schools with low test score averages would be "held accountable" for their failures. Should public schools as a whole continually perform below expected levels, then he would support measures to fund private school educations with government money. In contrast Gore proposed increasing the amount of government money used to hire and raise the salaries of public school teachers. He also advocated for tax breaks that would help parents offset the rising cost of college tuition.

The economy was in good shape at the end of Clinton's presidency, with a projected surplus budget to work with. The two candidates had different ideas about how to use it. Bush proposed large tax cuts across the board, while Gore championed moderate tax cuts for the lower and middle classes. Gore also suggested using some of that budget surplus to pay down part, if not all, of the national deficit. Bush proposed privatizing at least part of Social Security and Medicare while Gore advocated for an increase in government spending on both programs.

The candidates went into election day on fairly equal terms, but the election results were closer than anyone could have predicted. In the end it all came down to Florida, where Gore and Bush were separated by fewer than 600 votes. A machine narrowed that tally to 327 votes in favor of Bush. That led to a recount by hand, revising the number upward to 537 votes in Bush's favor. A further recount was ordered, the legality of which was challenged in court. Five weeks after election day, the Supreme Court reversed the recount order on the grounds that the time required would push past Florida's December 18 deadline for finalizing the state's electoral votes. The state's 25 electoral votes were awarded to Bush.

The Supreme Court's 5–4 decision caused a national uproar, but it also ended the election. With 500,000 fewer popular votes and five more electoral votes than his opponent, George W. Bush was elected the 43rd president of the United States.

2000 Electoral Map

While the electoral vote usually reflects the popular vote, the popular vote winner gathered fewer electoral votes in 1876 and 1888, as well as in 2000. This anomaly would be repeated in the 2016 election.

Partisan Politics

Rising partisan politics during George W. Bush's presidency reset the tone in the nation's capital, ultimately dividing not only Washington, DC, but the country as well.

George W. Bush's presidency ushered in an era of partisan politics rooted in the Clinton scandals and unlike any seen to date in modern political history. A partisan maintains strong, uncompromising support for a particular political party, cause, or ideology. In terms of the federal government, that means Republicans supported Republican lawmakers and Democrats supported Democratic lawmakers. Among the most polarizing issues were the role of government, immigration, race relations, religion, and the environment.

Nevertheless, there were some bipartisan accomplishments of note. For example, Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate worked together to pass tax cuts in 2001. In education, Bush's program No Child Left Behind received broad bipartisan support. In 2002 Bush worked closely with key Democrats and Republicans on an overhaul of Medicare. Other areas of bipartisan cooperation involved trade agreements, pension reform, housing reform, and energy production.

Despite these accomplishments, the gap between political parties grew. At the core was dissatisfaction expressed by the partisan voters on both sides. These partisan voters, referred to as the party base, believed their party was not adhering to its traditional positions on fundamental issues. Ideology—the ideas and values at the core of political policy—became narrower and more unified and less a broad-based mosaic of political ideas. Both parties clung more tightly to their respective ideology and moved further to either side of the political aisle. Even moderates and independent voters began to lean more heavily toward one party or the other.

Deepening Divide

The explosion of media channels in the early 2000s reinforced political divisions across the United States.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States experienced a period of unity. People felt united by their shared sorrow and nationalism. However, this unity seemingly evaporated after President Bush, with the approval of Congress, authorized the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Political opposition to the war emerged soon after, dividing the country once more along party lines.

Another polarizing force during the Bush administration was the explosion of media channels, including talk radio and 24-hour cable news stations. These provided unlimited outlets for news and information, as well as opinions. Overloaded with options, people generally aligned with channels and commentators that espoused political views and ideology with which they already agreed. They became increasingly uncomfortable with ideas that challenged their own. To a lesser degree—though with rising significance—a growing number of social media platforms provided everyday citizens a place to express opinions, argue ideas, and clarify positions. However, while creating an environment that invited civil discussion and disagreement, social media outlets also became popular platforms for hostile, contemptuous exchanges that furthered the divide and clarified very little.

During his second term, President Bush struggled to govern effectively as the political gap between parties grew. With increasing frequency, both parties refused to cooperate. This trend of politics along party lines continued well past Bush's presidency and into that of his two successors, making it increasingly difficult for lawmakers to get anything done in Washington, DC.