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Book Review 

by Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Americans are an industrious lot, and when the smart ones set their minds to something, they generally perfect it. We've turned the most mundane aspects of life -- from eating to shopping -- into higher forms of art. Now, with The Two Americas as proof, we can add politics to the list. Stanley Greenberg, a veteran Democratic pollster, is among those who have made running for office insanely scientific.

Used to be there were Democrats and Republicans, the two sides of America. According to Greenberg, however, there's a lot more to us than just that. He has segmented Americans into 22 categories. For example, solidly in the Republican camp are seven groups, including the F-You Boys -- white married men under 50 without college degrees. Die-hard Democrats have six tribes in their corner, including Union Families -- white union members and voters with at least one union member in their family. And there are nine social segments he thinks will be contested in the 2004 election, including the Golden Girls -- white women 65 years or older.

Greenberg lays out the proof that neither party has a clear advantage in 2004. Apparently, that's heady stuff among pollsters, so Greenberg pulled out all the stops; The Two Americas contains the results of polling of some 15,000 Americans taken over an 18-month period. And he reports on the findings of his own in-depth focus groups in three contested parts of the country: "Tampa Blue," the blue-collar suburbs of that Florida city; "Heartland Iowa," small-town communities in central Iowa; and "Eastside Tech," the cities of Redmond and Bellevue here in Washington state.

The statistics are overwhelming in volume, but some nuggets will stick with you. Greenberg finds that the GOP has been better at attracting the Perot voters. Health care, he finds, is a bigger issue even than terrorism. And he points out that demographic shifts have impacted politics: Married households are on the way down, going from 71 percent of the nation in 1970 to 53 percent in 2000.

Greenberg's take on the GOP is that its best bet is to continue to define itself as the party of Ronald Reagan -- a distinct possibility for Bush, as the outpouring of admiration for Reagan may still be fresh in November. And Democrats? Greenberg says they must take a page from John F. Kennedy's script and inspire people with a bold vision of the future. If Greenberg's right about 2004, then, it's going to be Reagan versus Kennedy. Is it any wonder that'll be a close one?

Publication date: 06/24/04

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