On Mandates

Responding to commentor, Matt writes:

This is why I bring up Bill Clinton’s 43 percent of the vote. The serious analysis I’ve seen almost always indicates that Clinton was the second-choice of most of Ross Perot’s voters, but the fact remains that Ross Perot was their first choice. That was anti-Republican sentiment in action. If Americans are really committed to right-wing principles, but poisoned by Bush against the Republican Party, then we should expect to see an Obama plurality tomorrow night and a strong showing for Bob Barr as center-right voters in a center-right country register their center-right displeasure with the GOP by voting for a non-GOP, non-liberal candidate.

This doesn’t seem quite right to me. For one thing, as Matt goes on to write, Republicans gained seats in the House in 1992, and Perot’s personal wealth gave him an advantage over other 3rd party candidates. So it seems more accurate that1992 was an anti-incumbent year.

More broadly though, I think this talk of mandates is generally silly. Generally speaking, it’s just not possible to aggregate the preferences and decision making processes of large numbers of people. Will some people vote for Obama and other Democrats in a flurry of votes against Republicans? Of course. And some will vote from them because of Iraq, or healthcare, or the economy in general, or education, or because they’re partisan Democrats. We can parse Obama voters in a dozen ways or so, but we can’t really account for the preferences or, especially, the prioritiziation of voters on the full spectrum of issues. All of this talk of mandates and overreaching strikes me as something the media and pundits devised to fill their space with nonsense about elections andthe horserace after the actual campaigns have ended. Anything to avoid substance after all.

Anyway, I think the best way for any majority to behave is to simply try to push their agenda as best they can, and hope events work out favorably.