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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

What Mandate?

Political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have an excellent article, “Popular Fiction” on The New Republic website today demolishing the absurd claim that Bush’s narrow election victory constitutes some sort of mandate for his conservative economic and social policies.
Here are some excerpts from the article:

No sooner had the red and blue ink dried on the maps of election commentators than triumphant Republicans began talking about their clear mandate for an ambitious domestic agenda. The people have spoken, Republicans proclaimed, and what they have said is that they favor the conservative agenda on taxes, Social Security, health care, gay marriage, and abortion. The administration, their humble servant, has a solemn duty to execute their wishes. And so President Bush has promised to move forward with ambitious but still only vaguely outlined plans for Social Security privatization, tax simplification, and restrictions on lawsuits. “I have political capital and I intend to spend it,” he declared.
….Although many pundits are saying that Bush trounced Kerry, the election was in fact exceedingly close by historical standards. In October, the American Political Science Association released the predictions of seven leading models of presidential elections. As an incumbent president running at a time of decent economic growth, Bush’s average predicted vote was around 54 percent, meaning he significantly underperformed historical expectations.
….[E]verything we know about American opinion suggests that Bush is out of step with the public on all the issues he is now putting at the top of his “to do” list. During the election campaign, polls found that most Americans continue to be highly skeptical of the Republican tax-cut agenda and convinced that they have not benefited from it. In the final debate, Bush had to resort to the fudge of pointing out that the majority of his tax cuts went to “low- and middle-income Americans”–and while they did, the majority of benefits from his tax cuts did not.
….Against the backdrop of September 11, the Republican strategy worked well enough to gain a narrow victory. Yet winning narrowly on a campaign of mud and fear, and a strategy of hard-nosed partisan gerrymandering, does not a popular mandate for the conservative policy agenda make. Republicans like to compare the current president with Ronald Reagan. But in 1980, Reagan made clearly specified tax cuts the centerpiece of his campaign. And when he won a decisive victory, he could credibly claim a mandate to implement his pledge. That is simply not the case today.

I recommend you read the whole thing. You’ll be glad you did.

7 comments on “What Mandate?

  1. Dan Carnese on

    As I was looking through the detailed National Election Pool exit poll data, I came across the following question:
    Category %Total Kerry Bush Nader
    Angry 23 96 3 1
    Dissatisfied 26 82 16 1
    Satisfied 26 11 89 0
    Enthusiastic 22 2 98 0
    In other words, a 49-48 plurality of voters was either angry or dissatisfied with the Bush administration.
    I think this settles the question of whether the election was a “mandate” for Bush’s policies.

  2. K. Brown on

    Yep JC, I agree with you and it is distressing. The only ray of hope I see is if they go too far right that the public opinion poll will shift against them. For this to happen we need to get the idealogues to stop harping on this election, take a balanced look at what is going on in Congress, and report it to the people though a mechanism that the common man can appreciate (sans rhetoric).

  3. cal on

    The fact that Bush won despite a below 50% approval rating and the decline of one important demographic, the female vote, should be a clue about what happened in this election.
    The attacks on 9/11 and subsequent wars have put the fear in the electorate. That situation can’t help but favor the incumbent. Details about pre-9/11 negligence, inept management of an unneccesary war aside, I believe the public is possessed with fear. The incredibly negative campaign against John Kerry raised just enough doubt to allow a Bush win.
    For those two reasons, I think the demographics gathered in this campaign are of no real value.

  4. joncehart on

    Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg has come up with some rather amazing data in his post-election survey that is directly relevant to the ‘mandate’ business:
    “There was not a shift to the right. This was a tolerant, outward-looking, change-oriented electorate that elected George Bush. The country was not looking for a conservative president or a conservative regime, though that is what it has achieved.”
    “What you’ll see in this data is that there was a large majority of the electorate and particularly pivotal portions of the electorate that were not looking for an election that was going to be settled on issues of security and safety, but were looking for an election that was about their lives and about economic issues and about health care. But in the end they did not think that they were given that choice in this election. And many of those voters held back until the end, and what we see in the end is many rural voters, many older blue collar voters and seniors who moved sharply toward the president on moral issues. The were clearly not going to vote that way until they did not get the choice that would have made it possible.”
    “By 52 to 41 percent the voters who ended up voting for George Bush said the country was on the wrong track. They said what they were looking for was a candidate that was going to talk about things central to their lives–the economy and health care– as opposed to safety. In my view, this debate did not get joined in a central enough way, to keep the cultural issues from becoming dominant and moving these voters at the end.”

  5. keith on

    There *might* be one reason to doubt that Bush will *succeed* in his mission to force a radical agenda down our throats. Fillibuster. The 55 Dems plus a couple of the blue state moderate Republicans might be all we need to stop SS privatization, tax “simplification” and right wing judges. But we have to be able to make sure all our Senators can hold up under the pressure. Surely that’s *possible* if Bush goes too far too fast.
    I’m not particularly hopeful:-(

  6. Robert Feinman on

    The Democrats need to retake the senate now! Here’s how…
    The background:
    Several events in the past few days have shown that the most
    radical members of the senate are planning to move aggressively
    on their agenda, especially with regard to judicial appointments
    and tax cuts.
    For example, Arlen Spector is now in trouble for stating that the
    senate may not be willing to confirm anti-abortion Supreme Court
    judges. This was not a threat, just an observation, but the radicals
    are already planning a punishment.
    On the other side the senators from NY, CT and NJ are thinking of
    dropping out in favor of becoming governors in 2006. They think
    they might be more effective, since there is very little they can
    do in the senate.
    Several moderate Republicans have expressed concern about the
    size of the deficit and the balance of trade. The radicals,
    however, are threatening to give anyone who is independent the
    “Daschle” treatment.
    The solution:
    The Democrats need to make an appeal to the moderate Republicans
    to leave their party and join the Democrats. In addition to
    Spector, good candidates are Chafee, Snowe, Voinovich and Collins.
    For this to work the Democrats need to find six Republicans that
    will all switch together. This will give the Democrats a majority
    in the senate and enable them to negotiate the coming legislation
    and nominations from an equal position of strength.
    This is not as far-fetched as it may seem, several of these
    senators are unlikely to run again (Spector has just be
    re-elected, for example) and thus don’t have to fear the
    lack of election support. With the Democrats in the majority
    they also won’t have to worry about retaliation from the
    Republicans for support of local projects.
    As an incentive, the Democrats should offer these members new
    powers such as committee chairmanships and other perks. If
    the Republican senators have a problem with declaring themselves
    as Democrats (such as what happened with Jeffords) they could
    instead create a non-party structure to affiliate these new
    allies with. Some name suggestions: “The alliance of responsible
    legislators”, “The non-partisan alliance”, “The fiscal moderates
    caucus”, etc. This group will caucus with the Democrats and vote
    as a block for committee assignments and for those issues on
    which they have overall agreement. The Republican members would
    still be free to vote with their prior party when they feel they
    have to for political or local reasons.
    By sweetening the offer enough the Republican moderates will come
    as a winners both in terms of their power in the senate and with
    their voters back home. They can point to their newfound powers
    as a way to promote the interests of their state. While in the
    present alignment they are barely tolerated.
    The Democrats need to stop despairing and get to work!

  7. JC on

    I may be incorrect, but while the article is definitely true, and I agree completely that the idea there is a “mandate” is absurd, there is also the practical political reality – and it seems to me this political reality is that the Frist, Hastert, Delay, and the White House, ARE going to be able to push pretty much anything they want through the Congress. Just as a matter of power politics, this seems to be the case, irregardless of whether the public lines up with the goals.
    If there are reasons to doubt my above assertion, I would be MOST pleased…


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