The New Mandate

After every election, we always manage to hear the winning side say that they have a mandate from the American people.  The people have spoken, and they want their plan over their opponent’s plan.  And there is no doubt that after the presidential election in November, whoever comes out on top will be declaring the same thing.  But is there really anything to it?  Can any side really claim a mandate just because they win the election?

A presidential election is a good place as any to start.  It’s a time when turnout is the highest though we’ve only been hovering between 50%-60% in voter turnout.  Can we honestly say that our elected officials know what the general populace wants when there is almost 50% of the voting population not voting at all?  We have them basing their decisions on only what half the people say.  So there is the first problem.  The second part of the equation is how we elect our president.  As stated in the previous entry (The Electoral College), we elect our highest office through the Electoral College.  It’s “winner take all” in 48 of the 50 states no matter what the margin of difference is.  We need to look back no further than 2000 and the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. It was a time of economic prosperity, budget surpluses, and pre-9/11. There was nothing to indicate a close election, but it still was.  We make note that Bush won Florida by 537-votes.  People fail to remember that the vote difference in 12-states that year was less than 5%, according to the FEC.  In 2008, there were 6-states that had vote differences less than 5% (and the 2nd Nebraska district… since Nebraska is not “winner take all”) which totaled 88 electoral votes.  There were 9-states and Nebraska’s 1st district that were between 5%-10%.  Barack Obama won the Electoral Vote 365-173 with 52.92% of the total votes cast.  But that is only 52% of the 60% that actually voted.  So does that constitute a mandate when those that are eligible to vote and don’t could easily swing the election one way or the other?  A few votes here or there in 2000 in the right states could have swapped the election.  Same goes in 2004 and 2008.

In the US, we have a duopoly running our government.  The media and everything else focus solely on the Democratic and Republican parties despite there being several others.  So the pendulum only swings two ways.  It will stay Republican for awhile and then when the majority of voters tire of that side, they switch to the Democrats until they tire of that way and then the pendulum swings back.  And just because someone votes Democratic during one such election just might mean that they don’t like the Republican that’s running and vice versa.  In 2008, there were probably many voters who were tired of Republicans running the Executive Branch of the government… as they had been for the previous 8-years.  There were probably others who didn’t like either Senator John McCain or Governor Sarah Palin.  On the other side, there were probably people who voted for McCain that didn’t like Senator Barack Obama or Senator Joe Biden.  Now I go back to 2000 again.  We had been under Democratic leadership in the Executive Branch for 8-years with President Clinton.  Congress had been Republican for six of those years.  The people did state, by official numbers, that they wanted that branch of government to swing back to Republican control.  However, the total vote difference was just shy of 544,000-votes… or  0.51%.  And with Republicans still controlling Congress (with only the exception of the Senate being evenly split 50-50 from 2001-2003), they wanted to claim that the people had given them a mandate to do as they wish.

Now, our Founding Fathers did set up our government so that those that we elect could represent us and what we want from our government, but they never envisioned political parties or certain individuals being elected repeatedly as though its a career instead of a civic duty.  The reason why there are elections for the House of Representatives every 2-years is because that is the people’s chamber.  It was supposed to be the way that elected officials, including the President, could keep tabs on what the mood of the public was.  The Senate, being the upper chamber, was supposed to put more debate into issues to make sure that the people were thinking clearly and the representatives were doing their job.  Between President George Washington and President John Quincy Adams, presidents had only issued a veto 10-times total (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams didn’t issue even one).  They mostly deferred to the legislative branch to set policy because  that was where the pulse of the nation was.  That was how the people expressed what they wanted their government to do.  But if we were to do that, do we look at the House or the Senate or both.  In the past two years, we’ve had a divided legislative branch.  In 2008, Democrats had big majorities in both chambers.  Before 2008, it had been fairly evenly divided for the previous 8-years.  So maybe that means that the electorate is evenly divided, or maybe the pendulum is just stuck and not swinging back and forth as wildly as it once was.

A close election is more fun than a run-away.  It gets people all fired up and usually drives more people to the polls since they believe there is more at stake.  They believe that there vote could tip the scale one way or the other… well, at least in the battleground states.  States that are safely Democrat or safely Republican usually don’t have that problem.  There in lies another problem with our elections and determining mandates, only about a dozen states are considered toss-ups each election year.  2012 has even fewer.  So the majority of the election is focused on the voters in those states, and it basically comes down to whichever party gets more people to the polls to vote that particular year.

There has been a lot of gridlock over the past two-years.  That’s what happens with divided government.  And it’s not necessarily a bad thing except when it prohibits anything from being accomplished.  One side doesn’t want to make the other side look good even if they do agree.  That’s when gridlock becomes bad because no one wants to work together because both sides usually agree on the basic principles and don’t want to help the other side look good.  At least when they are on “moderate” opposing sides, they can usually work together to come up with a somewhat reasonable compromise that appeases both sides… and is usually better than the one-sided plan.  Democrats state they had a mandate in 2008 because they won big majorities in Congress and the presidency.  Republicans say they now have a mandate because they took back the House in 2010 and took several seats in the Senate.  Is either side right?  Not really.  The pendulum was just swinging back and forth as it always does.  Can it show what the people are thinking though?  Kind of.  It can give a possible indication on how the voting populace is thinking (not the total voting populace).  And the reason why it’s only a “possible indication” is because we can’t be 100% sure why someone votes the way they do.  It could be the issues of the day, it could be that they are tired of the one party being charge, or they might not like a particular candidate that is running.  In any case, our elected officials need to stop using the term “mandate” when they speak after election.  Especially in today’s times, there just is no such thing.  There are entirely too many variables which include the flaw of our duopoly in government and that almost half of the voting population aren’t actually voting at all.  It’s difficult to getting any kind of accurate census in that manner.

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2 Responses to The New Mandate

  1. Adna says:

    yeah i really liked reading this article.

  2. Aka of Shades says:

    Your intelligence is very handsome. This article was intellectual eye-candy for me. Thank you.

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