Nov 11 2012

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Did Election Day Provide a Mandate?

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Mandate? Not So Quick...

As surely as day follows night, the Wednesday-after parsing of presidential elections leads to talk of “mandates.”

This is tricky business in any election year, but given the immediacy and consequence of the financial decisions that must be made between December and February – the “Fiscal Cliff” and the requirement to raise the debt ceiling, again – understanding the correct nature and intention of the vote is crucial.

It should be an axiom that any candidate that runs without an agenda  cannot claim a mandate. Considering the presidential emphasis this cycle on Bain, Big Bird, binders and birth control, a reasonable case can be made that an agenda was wonting. But that has not stopped Team Obama from making very serious statements claiming a mandate to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Vice President Biden: “On the tax issue there was .. . a clear sort of mandate about people coming much closer to our view about how to deal with tax policy.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “The mandate was .. . everybody agrees that the richest of the rich have to help a little bit.”

Campaign aide David Plouffe: “Voters clearly chose the president’s view of making sure the wealthiest Americans are asked to do a little more in terms of reducing the deficit.”

And, not to be outdone, the president himself: “On Tuesday night we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach.”

All this “mandate to raise taxes” comes from a CNN exit poll question which asked if, “Income tax rates should be raised for those making $250,000 and above.” Those saying “yes” represented 48 percent of voters, and those voters went for President Obama, 70-29 percent.

Slam dunk, yes? Obama won. Argument settled.

Well, only if you consider the question in complete isolation.

The exit polls also asked other, mitigating questions. “Should taxes be raised to cut the deficit?” 63-33 percent said no. “Which candidate would better handle the deficit?” Romney over Obama 49-47 percent. And on the question regarding the role of government, 51 percent said the government was doing too much compared to 43 percent that said it should be doing more.

These exit poll answers provide valuable and necessary context to Team Obama’s mandate argument on tax increases for the wealthy.

But beyond exit poll questions, the actual election results should give Team Obama pause.

The elite media was quick seizing on the sizable Obama Electoral College lead as inflection point of “mandate forming” victory. The Washington Post even called it “decisive.”

In fact, however, the Fourth Estate may need a collective “time out.”

As Ruth Marcus, no fan of Mitt Romney or Republicans generally, stated in her column on Sunday, “Flip about 155,000 votes in just four states — Ohio, Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire — and you end up planning a Romney inaugural. The freakish closeness of Florida 2000 obscures the minuscule percentage of the vote that those switches would entail: little more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the national vote.” Marcus makes the point to show that the US remains a deeply divided nation.

There is no Obama mandate here, as the larger numbers point out.

President Obama is the first president in 180 years to win a smaller percentage of the popular vote in re-election than in his first election.

Indeed, how does Team Obama claim a mandate when the president lost nearly 8 million votes from his 2008 victory total? It gets worse for Team Obama when you consider that the national voting age population actually increased by 10 million in the last four years.

Consider that in the key swing states that would have delivered Romney the presidency, the President lost support compared to 2008: -15,000 in New Hampshire; -21,000 in Iowa; -35,000 in Colorado; -62,000 in Virginia; -78,000 in Florida, and a whopping -249,000 in Ohio. In contrast, Team Romney out-performed ’08 vote totals in each of these swing states, adding voters.

That is not the stuff of mandates, no matter how it is spun.

Add in that in the other “national” election, Republicans won 55 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives – running on the GOP platform of government reform, deficit reduction and pro-growth tax policy, and it becomes structurally clear that no united verdict was delivered on Tuesday.

And just for good measure, consider this.

In 2004, Democrats howled that Bush’s narrow victory over John Kerry provided him with no mandate to do anything.  However, on Tuesday, President Obama won fewer votes than George W. Bush did in 2004, even with a potential pool of 2o million additional voters this year.

That’s right, my progressive, Democratic or Bush-loathing friends – George W. Bush received more votes that Barack Obama.

All of these sign posts scream for the President to take a cautious approach in his next steps on consequential financial negotiations with Congress.

However, nothing in his first term record suggests he will heed that advice.

Seat belts fastened, and tray tables in an upright and locked position, as a result. It’s going to get bumpy.













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