OP-ED COLUMNIST The Bush Democrats By DAVID BROOKS New York Times Published: January 13, 2004 n 2000, the American electorate was evenly divided. Now, as we enter another voting season, the Gallup Organization has released a study, based on 40,000 interviews, that shows that 45.5 percent of voters identify with or lean toward the Republican Party and 45.2 percent identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. So is that it? After Sept. 11, the Iraq war and the Madonna-Britney kiss, could it really be that we are back to where we started? Since 2000, tens of millions of people have moved, divorced and converted; can it really be that everything in America changes except politics? Yes and no. Yes, the political divides today do look a lot like the ones that split the nation in 2000. But no. When you look beneath the headline data, you see at least one important change. The events of the past three years have brought to the foreground issues that divide Democrats, and pushed to the background issues that divide Republicans. The first result is that the Republican Party is more unified than ever before. Ninety-one percent of Republicans approve of the job President Bush is doing. In 1992, Bush's father didn't have anything like that level of support, and even the Reagan administration was split between so-called pragmatists and ideologues. Today's Republicans not only like Bush personally, they also overwhelmingly support his policies. According to a Pew Center study, 85 percent of Republicans support the war in Iraq, 82 percent believe that pre-emptive war is justified, and 72 percent believe the U.S. is justified in holding terror suspects without trial. The Democrats, meanwhile, are divided on all these issues. According to the same Pew survey, 54 percent of Democrats oppose the war in Iraq, but 39 percent support it. Forty-four percent of Democrats oppose the pre-emptive war doctrine, but 52 percent support it. Forty-seven percent of Democrats oppose holding terror suspects without trial, but 46 percent are in favor. Liberals have all the passion these days. They dominate campaign events in Iowa and New Hampshire, but they have not won over half the voters in their own party. The Democrats are also divided on major domestic issues. The Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg surveyed Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Democrats there were split on Nafta and gay marriage and on whether to roll back all the Bush tax cuts. The biggest divide among Democrats is metaphysical. Some portion of the party, led by Howard Dean, is so disgusted by Republicans that it does not believe it is possible to work with such people. Meanwhile, others, including Dick Gephardt, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, accept that Republicans are in power, are willing to work with them and take a starkly different approach to politics. This situation â Republican unity and Democratic fissures â means that the Democratic vote is less cohesive than the G.O.P. vote, at least on the presidential level. In a Bush-Dean matchup, 20 percent of Democrats would vote for Bush, according to a CBS poll, while only 3 percent of Republicans would vote for Dean. Over all, Bush leads Dean by 20 points. And in Iowa and New Hampshire, swing states where voters know both candidates well, Bush is up by significant margins. In other words, at least at the moment, Bush has crashed through the 45/45 partisan divide. He is a polarizing figure, but there are many more people who support him than oppose him. And this support is not merely personal; it is built into the issue landscape. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, 57 percent of Americans say they are more likely to support a candidate who supported going to war in Iraq, while only 35 percent say they would be less likely. According to Pew, 59 percent believe that the war in Iraq has helped in the broader war on terror. All of this means two things. First, as we dive into this period of intense Democratic primary competition, it's worth keeping in mind that Democratic primary voters are a misleading snapshot of the electorate as a whole. Second, while the nation remains closely divided over all, and gravitational pressures will cause the general election to tighten, it is wrong to think that the electorate is fixed. There are millions of people who may lean toward one party or another, but who can be persuaded to support either presidential candidate. At the moment, many are supporting Bush.