CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Struggling to understand the post-election brouhaha? Instead of turning on cable news, invite a few friends over to watch football.
When the game is tight and the calls are close, your buddies will instantly take whatever position best suits their team. Think about a matchup between the Giants and Redskins. When Giants fans say some guy trapped the ball, Redskins loyalists will say he caught it. If Washington fans say the player was in bounds, New York fans will say he was out of bounds. It doesn't matter what the call is, the fans will automatically argue whatever position benefits their team.
Shortly after election day, a Rasmussen Research poll found that 95 percent of George Bush supporters thought that the Texas governor won the election. At the same time, 79 percent of Al Gore voters thought the vice president actually won. Since election day, those basic views have remained essentially unchanged.
During the past month, political fans have behaved like your football buddies and learned to adopt whatever line will be most beneficial to their candidate. If Vice President Gore thinks some votes should be counted, then his supporters will agree and those who voted for Governor Bush will disagree. On the other hand, if Bush wants some action taken, his supporters will say it's only fair while Gore's will say it's unconscionable.
In this environment, sports fans know that only a dramatic moment on videotape will change the basic perceptions held by fans of one candidate or the other. Sometimes, in sports, that dramatic moment can come in the form of a new camera angle. However, it's hard to imagine any new angles popping up this late in the election game.
Another dramatic moment can take the form of an admission. If the player involved said he really didn't make that big catch, most of his fans would reluctantly go along. In the race for the White House, if one candidate says he fell just a little bit short in the quest for votes, most of his supporters will sadly agree.
As I write this, things are looking bleak for Al Gore. It's possible to imagine him conceding at some point, but the concession could take many forms. In fact, it's quite possible to imagine the vice president conceding without saying that he lost the election. In that case, Bush voters will go on thinking Bush won and Gore voters will go on thinking Gore won.
But even in this case, there are already hopeful signs that the public is ready to put this election behind them.
Following the rulings of Judge N. Sanders Sauls and the US Supreme Court on Monday, 79 percent of all voters were convinced that Bush would be our next president. This, despite the fact that only 57 percent of all voters believe Bush actually won the election. Most Gore voters, while still saying that their man won, have come to the conclusion that Governor Bush will take the oath of office Jan. 20. In other words, while they retain their partisan view, they are gradually accepting the reality unfolding before them. If the situation were reversed, the Bush voters would be doing the same thing.
Despite this apparent disconnect, it's important to understand that most Gore voters do not think the election is being stolen. In fact, even after the devastating judicial rulings issued on Monday, a majority of Gore voters said they were "somewhat" or "very" confident that the election will be resolved in a fair and reasonable manner. They will be able to accept a Bush victory as a legitimate outcome, because even the closest of games has to have a winner.
In other words, the voters are generally behaving like grown-ups.
Voters recognize that this election was too close to call - even after the votes were cast. They realize that the process of tabulating 100 million votes can never be perfect. Very few have the sense that the republic will collapse if either man becomes president. In fact, roughly half believe that things will go along pretty much the same in the country regardless of the outcome.
Perhaps most important of all, the voters also recognize that the game is not about Bush and Gore. They're simply this season's star players. One or both of them could be around for a few more seasons, but the country will go on long after both men have left the political scene.
In the interim, the winner of this round will either gain or lose legitimacy and support based upon the way he performs his job rather than the way he got his job.
In other words, like sports fans everywhere, voters recognize that when the game is over, there's always another game.
Scott Rasmussen is president of Rasmussen Research, an independent public-opinion polling firm.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society