Don’t give up – get help with ‘Divided America’

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2008

By Deirdre Parker Smith
Having trouble with this year’s Summer Reading Challenge?
Do you cringe when you look at the cover of “Divided America”? Have you already decided not to read it?
Have no fear, Dr. Michael Bitzer is here.
Bitzer, associate professor of political science and history at Catawba College, actually teaches the durn thing in his classes at the college.
He has kindly offered to guide us, the casual readers, through the book.
Don’t be put off by all the numbers in Chapter 1. There’s no test. Once you read it, the chapter is really a summary of what we already know. Conservatives are more so; liberals are more so. African-Americans vote a certain way (generally); other minorities are beginning to be a factor. The middle ground is virtually gone.
Bitzer will discuss the book on Tuesdays, July 8, 15 and 22, at 7 p.m. at Waterworks Visual Arts Center. The first session will cover chapters 1 and 2.
“I’m planning to give folks some handouts; to try to come up with a matrix, so when folks come across important numbers, they can see the bigger picture and see across a lot of things.”
Bitzer says the public hears so much about voting blocs and the media has gotten so into “slicing and dicing it” all up. The authors of the book, Earl and Merle Black, try to show the total effect.
“I think the Black brothers are right, it’s not really a majority political party country, it’s more a coalition country, with independents split nicely down the middle.”
The Republican and Democratic parties have to build a coalition of independents and others to win an election, and every two years that shifts, Bitzer says. The Black brothers present where the shifts are going on and who is movable and who is not.
“If you ask the average Joe, he’ll say there are two majority parties. Yeah, but your have to dig deeper,” Bitzer says, especially if this election year is as close as 2000 and 2004.
“I think there are more issues of age than people realize. … In looking at primary polls, yes, race was up there, but the issue of age was up there, sometimes higher than race,” he says. The issue with longevity is, “We are all handicapped getting into that age group.”
Bitzer predicts “This is a screwy year and it’s going to get screwier.”
His second session will cover chapters 3-5 and the final session will review chapters 6-9. Breaking it up into pieces that fit together, he says, will make the analysis easier.
He plans to describe the “basic lay of the land” with a couple of handouts and the now familiar red and blue map, with electoral votes marked for each state.
“They will give folks a foundation, then they can see visually while reading. They can spread the regions out.”
He’ll give his perspective, then open up for questions ó he’s expecting a lot.
“I want to get questions going. Why separate this group from this one? Let people work their way through it.”
Bitzer says the scary numbers and charts at the beginning of the book demonstrate why it’s called political SCIENCE.
“The Black brothers base so much on exit polls. Any poll is going to be suspect. Unfortunately, exit polls are off, and can be off significantly. … But that’s the only things, sometimes, we can use. We ask a random sample, relying that they are going to be honest, that this representation of the population would be accurate enough that we can make assertions.” With multiple sources, political scientists, hopefully, will get one firm idea.
“The key thing is we’re dealing with human beings … particularly when it comes to voting, more people claim to vote for the winner than actually voted in the election. If there were no human beings, it would be much easier,” Bitzer says, laughing.
“We’ll discuss the chapters and have handouts for each session. I hope to have it all ready at the first session to work with for the rest of the time.
“I’m not a political person, I won’t take one side or another. I’m just interpreting data. This will be an exceptional year, but if the past is any indicator, I think it will be similar to the years in the book.”
Contact Deirdre Parker Smith at or 704-797-4252.