Debra Goldman’s Consumer Republic

What with the Electoral College being top of mind, it’s no surprise that the headline for the first data released from the 2000 census was “Bush Gains Seven Electoral Votes.”

According to the new figures, there are more than 281 million Americans—and 58 percent of them now live in the West and the South. Texas, which leapfrogs New York to become the second-largest state, Georgia, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, California and Florida will add to their Congressional delegation and electoral vote total.

Their gain, for the most part, is the Northeast and Midwest’s loss, as Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin join New York in losing House seats. Do the math, and it looks pretty good for the Republicans in 2004.

Of course, it’s not that simple.

One can argue that as Americans migrate toward the sun, the South becomes less traditionally Southern and the West less Western. Consider Nevada, where the population has exploded since 1990 by 66 percent, enough to add another representative and electoral vote.

As any bicoastal citizen who deigns to look at flyover land can tell you, people haven’t been moving in droves to the desert. They’ve gone to Las Vegas, capital of the entertainment economy and ’90s boom town. Las Vegas happens to be in the only county in the state that voted for Gore; it helped put him within 3.55 percent of carrying the state.

In fact, history shows us the fastest-growing states are politically the most volatile. Just look at California and Florida, the big winners of the post-war population sweepstakes. California, the state that brought us Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown, is in a constant state of political morphing. In Florida—well, we all know about Florida.

Besides, only politicians think in terms of states. For marketers, whose ways of doing business are also greatly influenced by the results of the census, the vital information is still to come: Statistics about income, household composition, age, ethnicity and more will be released over the next three years.

This is the raw material from which lifestyle clusters are formed, target markets calculated and marketing strategies conceived.

From the riches of the 2000 census, marketers will create their own map of America on April 1, 2001. It will bear no resemblance to those blotches of red and blue we stared at on TV maps in the weeks following the presidential election.

In the age after mass marketing, marketers are interested not in states, but in states of mind, which transcend geography. Their map of America is a conglomeration of archipelagos, islands of taste, habit and income that resemble similar, far-flung islands more than they resemble their geographic neighbors.

Moreover, in the marketplace, there is no pretense that every vote counts equally.

Only the politicians fret over possible undercounts of the urban and transient poor, since in the pseudo-democracy of the marketplace, their votes—buying power—don’t count for much.

By the same token, the votes of the educated, well-to-do professionals, which reach from Seattle to Boston, Atlanta to Minneapolis, wield tremendous power. It is there, among this diverse elite of urban/suburban taste makers, that one finds the mother lode of “electoral votes,” which, in turn, determine the nation’s culturaldirection.

Placing a marketing map of America next to a political one goes a long way to explaining how our nation has become more Republican even as it has become more culturally liberal and permissive in ways Republicans traditionally abhor.

It’s as if there are two parallel democracies in America that make contradictory voting choices: socially Democratic, politically Republican.