Does Obama have a mandate?

Writing in the St. Louis Beacon, Prof. Joel Goldstein argues that Pres. Obama’s reelection victory was bigger than it may have looked, and that the voters gave Obama a solid mandate to proceed with implementation of Obamaism in the second term.

Here are a few of his main points:

*Obama won with 50.6 of the popular vote and 61 percent of the electoral vote. Both of these were down from his 2008 victory, which is a major talking point for those seeking to undermine talk of a mandate. Goldstein notes that Obama becomes only the third president in the last 60 years to clear 50 percent twice (Eisenhower and Reagan being the other two). The trouble with that point is that clearing 50 percent has more to do with whether there is a significant third party vote.

*Obama’s Electoral College margin was bigger than George W. Bush achieved in 2000 or 2004, and that didn’t stop Bush from declaring a mandate for the issues on which he had run.

*It’s true that Obama lost two states (Indiana and North Carolina) that he had carried in 2008. But those states have rarely gone blue in recent history. Goldstein thinks it’s more significant that Obama, for the second time, carried four states that have been fairly reliably red in recent history. here’s his paragraph on that:

“What’s significant is not that Obama lost those two states, but that he held long-time red states like Virginia (10 of last 10 pre-Obama elections, red), Colorado (7 of last 10 pre-Obama elections, red), Florida (6 of last 10 pre-Obama elections, red) and Nevada (6 of last 10 pre-Obama elections red), and made North Carolina competitive. Obama won 26 states and the District of Columbia, including seven of the nine largest states.”

*Emphasizing that Obama won by smaller margins in 2012 than in 2008 is misleading, Goldstein argues, because a big chunk of Obama’s 2008 victory was a direct repudiation of the immediate past mistakes and failures of Pres. Bush (Iraq War, tanking economy). After three years of slow economic growth, the voters were not just being asked “do you want to do something different from what Bush did,” but “do you want Obama to keep doing what he has been doing.” If that’s true (which I don’t claim to know), it would translate more directly into a mandate for the policies on which Obama ran.

“The issues were publicly aired. Obama and the Democrats won the vote. Not in a landslide, but very impressively. The people have spoken. Elections are supposed to have consequences. It’s time to move in a direction consistent with these facts.”

Personally, I’m not sure I’m that much of a mandate believer any more. I’ll try to write a bit more about why in a future post.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/14/2012 - 09:43 am.

    Mandate shmandate

    The idea that elections provide mandates was a Republican fantasy. The only mandate is to do the job and make government work for the people. We’d all be better off if stopped talking about mandates and focused on real solutions driven by evidence instead of ideology.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/14/2012 - 10:18 am.

    Not really…

    If it’s a mandate, it’s so tiny that, aside from curiosity value, it’s not worth much.

    A “real” mandate would have been a 60+ percent victory in the popular vote, or the same existing Obama margin of victory with Republicans losing, in addition, control of the house by a significant (i.e., reliable) margin of a dozen seats. Increasing the Democratic advantage in the Senate is important, especially if there are SCOTUS appointments to be made over the next 4 years, but the House controls the purse strings, so even if their influence has been diminished, there’s no way to simply ignore the Republicans in the House.

    For what little it’s worth, my own view is that the election results are more a matter of the voting public saying, in effect, “Don’t reverse course.” I saw it more as a rejection of the Norquist/lunatic fringe on the right than marching orders to veer to the left. William Saletan on Slate congratulated voters on electing a “moderate Republican” to a second term, and I think he’s not far from the truth.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/14/2012 - 10:45 am.

    I would think a 75% to 25% would approach a mandate.

    But then, couldn’t Jim Crow laws be said to have had a mandate a few decades past?

    What the results are, though, is a rejection of economic Darwinism as the guiding principle by a majority of voters. The will of a majority should be reflected in the making of legislation.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/14/2012 - 10:52 am.


    People who win elections have mandates. That’s the whole point of holding elections.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/14/2012 - 11:10 am.

    Mandates v. Gridlock

    You never hear about mandates before elections, when people consider and ultimately make their choices. What you hear about a lot is gridlock, the inability of our elected officials to implement policy. But after the elections, what we hear about mandates, and the lack thereof, and it seems to me that if we don’t feel the people we elect have mandate to govern, what we have is gridlock.

  6. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 11/14/2012 - 11:46 am.

    Mandate as a Whomping Stick

    You know how to tell if a President has a mandate? The President has a mandate if he can go around the country and threaten reelection of those who oppose his policies. Otherwise there is no point in talking about mandates.
    And even beside that, elected officials are elected to do what they think is best. That’s the whole point. This doesn’t, of course, mean that no compromise should take place, but we should expect the elected to at least start from their principles.
    This goes both ways, btw. The GOP congress members were elected on their promises as well. We should expect them to be as compromising as the Dems were in ’04, when they had lost a Presidential election to a guy that they didn’t like.

  7. Submitted by Richard Pecar on 11/14/2012 - 12:02 pm.

    Obama’s Mandate…any pen with enough ink to veto?

    Let’s see…the fellas that founded this country — who so many people often affectionately and coincidentally refer to as “The Founders” — they were supported by about 30% of the colonialists; and, they started a war with England.

    Grover Norquist has a couple of hundred to a thousand or so of “daddy and mommy big bucks” supporting his “no new taxes” mandate. He seems to have done okay (for the time being).

    All told, I think President Obama is in excellent shape when it comes to mandates; at least better than the two I mentioned above.

  8. Submitted by Brandt Hardin on 11/14/2012 - 01:28 pm.

    Bamboozling Obama

    Despite all odds, our President prevailed. He still has an uphill battle fighting a Red House which has blocked his every move in an attempt to squash his goals of bringing the Middle Class equal pay, women’s rights, gay rights and affordable healthcare. The Bush Administration drove our economy into a swift nose dive and Obama is still the patsy. Watch conservative hands paint him in Blackface with a visual commentary of how Barack has been bamboozled at

  9. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/14/2012 - 02:12 pm.

    In his first post-election presser…

    …Obama pretty much said what Paul did: his only mandate is to make things better for the middles class, and for the people working to join the middle class.

    NPR opined later that the “Hispanic wave” that returned the President to the White House also seemed to signal that immigration would be a big part of O’s second administartion, and that the political timing looked good tor this happening — if the GOP hardliners play ball, that is.

  10. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/14/2012 - 10:31 pm.

    What does a real mandate look like?

    It might be helpful to compare what a real mandate looks like. I was reading tonight how Franklin Delano Roosevelt won election for his second term by 523 to Alf Landon’s 8 votes in the electoral college, with only Maine and Vermont going for Landon. The Democrats ended up controlling the House 331 to 89 and the Senate 76-16. Roosevelt still didn’t have the votes to pack the Supreme Court though.

    So does Obama have a mandate? Not by historical standards. The right wing is certain to regroup sooner or later. So Obama has some momentum and some maneuvering room he didn’t have in his first term and he might accomplish some real progressive things if he’d move fast.

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