Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mandates Are Fictional

Therefore, the answer to Joshua Tucker's question -- Is there a Republican mandate? -- is no.

If you really want to push it, one could say that a mandate is whatever a party or a politician can convince everyone that the voters are saying.  Polling might be useful for that, but so might campaign rhetoric -- really, it's just whatever works.

But, no, if you're talking about some sort of specific instructions from the voters, as a whole, to politicians, as a whole, you're going to come up against the fact that voters don't know or care much about about specific issues of public policy.  And even if that wasn't the case, the ballot is an incredibly poor tool for expressing much more than a preference for one candidate over another.  Mandates are fictional.


  1. I can't entirely agree. Had the voters nominated and elected Ron Paul in 2008, that would be a pretty clear mandate to take a more libertarian direction.

    But given the gibberish set of campaign promises made by the Republicans and Democrats, for all practical purposes there exists no mandate. And certainly Bush's claim, in 2004, of a mandate to privatize Social Security makes me especially wary of such wholesale claims.

  2. I agree that it doesn't make sense to think of "mandates" as a set of instructions from voters to office holders. But that doesn't make them any less real. Mandates are grants of authority to act in the voters' names for a fixed duration. That means that honoring a democratic mandate is less a matter of an office-holder's taking direction from the electorate than of acting in a way that makes those who voted for him think, in judicious hindsight, that the authority was well-used. So it makes sense to say that Harry Truman faithfully executed his mandate even though it made him too unpopular to run for reelection.


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