Election '88 now is history, but politicians will be pondering its ramifications for many months. Among the questions being studied: Did Republicans make any progress with black and Jewish voters? Where is the South headed? Does the far West hold future promise for the Democrats? How important were the candidates for vice-president?
Here are some early thoughts, based on exit surveys, polls, and interviews with analysts.
Black voters. George Bush hoped to expand GOP support within the nation's black community. But Mr. Bush found nothing to cheer about in the returns.
Ronald Reagan got a paltry 9 to 13 percent of the black vote in 1984, according to various studies. Bush got only 9 percent in the ABC News exit surveys, and little more than that in other polls.
The returns were keenly disappointing, because there were predictions that Bush's black vote would be as high as 15 or 16 percent.
Yet insiders don't expect Bush to give up. He's a great admirer of New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican who was first elected by a tiny margin, then got overwhelmingly reelected with the help of 60 percent of the black vote. Governor Kean has worked hard to broaden the party's base with minorities, and Bush selected him as the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention in an obvious bid to black voters.
Veteran analyst Horace Busby says: ``George and Barbara Bush will use the White House to show blacks that blacks are welcome. It will not be a difficult thing for Republicans to turn this around because it has become apparent this year to most black voters that there is not a prayer for the blacks to win the presidential nomination in the Democratic Party. Jesse Jackson was not rejected by Republicans, but by Democrats.''
Lee Atwater, the incoming chairman of the the Republican National Committee, told GOP governors at a conference this week at Point Clear, Ala., ``I am convinced ... we've got an opportunity in the black community like we've never had before.'' The prime GOP target: blacks under 45 years old.
Jewish voters. Jewish voters had several concerns about the Democratic Party this year - all related to the Rev. Mr. Jackson and blacks. They worried about Jackson supporters at the Democratic convention who waved signs saying, ``Palestine: Statehood Now.'' They worried about anti-Semitic remarks from some blacks. And they fretted about the large role that Jackson seemed to play at the convention.
Yet Jewish support for the Democrats grew again this year. According to ABC News exit surveys over the past eight years, Jewish support for Republicans has declined from 35 percent in 1980, to 31 percent in 1984, to 28 percent in 1988. The apparent reason: Jews are even more concerned about issues such as school prayer, which they see as a threat to religious freedom, than any perceived threat from certain black leaders.
The South. When Michael Dukakis picked Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen for his running mate, it was an effort to renew the Boston-Austin axis that carried Democrats into the White House in 1960.
Obviously, it didn't work. Even with Senator Bentsen on the Democratic ticket, the South formed the foundation of the Republicans' national victory.
For Democrats, the numbers are sobering. Among Southern whites, Bush won 64 percent, to 35 percent for Mr. Dukakis. Bush carried every income group from $10,000 and up. He dominated the Southern independent vote, 65 to 33. Among white, born-again Christians, Bush overwhelmed Dukakis 80 to 19.
When Southerners were asked the most important issue in making their decision for president, they listed national defense No. 1. Significantly, 92 percent of those defense-minded voters backed Bush. Also strongly influencing Southern voters were the candidates' views on abortion, illegal drugs, and the death penalty, all of which helped Bush.
The lesson is plain: in Dixie, Republicans are outflanking Democrats on the issues with greatest impact.
The far West. Along the Pacific Coast, national defense also was an important issue this year - but not as important as the economy. In California, Oregon, and Washington, the budget deficit and health care are proportionately more powerful talking points than in the South, and that gives Democrats an opening.
Thus, Dukakis broke through in Oregon and Washington, and nearly tripped Bush in California.
Building on their vote this year, Democrats see a foundation for future national victory emerging in the far West, the farm belt, and the Northeast.
However, skeptics doubt that Democrats can recapture the White House again without some Southern support - and that may require a nominee from the South at the top of the ticket. Are you listening, Sam Nunn?
The vice-presidency. The traditional rule in selecting a vice-president is: ``Do no harm.'' By selecting Senator Bentsen, Dukakis tried to turn the No. 2 spot into a strong plus. There are indications that it worked, at least a little.
A Times Mirror poll, which interviewed 2,022 voters both before and after the election, found large numbers of voters were concerned about Dan Quayle, the Republican vice-presidential nominee. Some Dukakis voters said the main reason they voted Democratic was the presence of Senator Quayle on the Bush ticket.
Andrew Kohut, president of the Gallup Organization, which conducted the Times Mirror poll, says that Bentsen and Quayle together probably switched between 3 percent and 4 percent of all voters to Dukakis. In a close election, that could be the difference - a factor that could weigh on Republican thinking about 1992.