Friday, January 21, 2005

Of Polls and Mandates

Now that the election has been decided and the President sworn in, Mr. Bush’s opponents are busy trying to prevent him from doing what the people elected him to do. They do this by twisting facts to suit their purpose, using polls to back them up. Consider the following from The Washington Post:

“President Bush will begin his second term in office without a clear mandate to lead the nation, with strong disapproval of his policies in Iraq and with the public both hopeful and dubious about his leadership on the issues that will dominate his agenda, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. … Fewer than half of those interviewed -- 45 percent -- said they preferred that the country go in the direction that Bush wanted to lead it, whereas 39 percent said Democrats should lead the way.”

The preceding illustrates why polls should often be taken with a grain of salt, and why the Post article deserves to be ignored. While only 45 percent of those surveyed said they approve of the direction George Bush wants to take the country in this particular poll, 52 percent of American voters voted for Mr. Bush over Democrat John Kerry. Obviously, the poll does not reflect the popular vote of just two months ago.

I can’t find a report of the poll results reported by Tim Russert recently, but the poll asked a question similar to this: “Do you believe President Bush has a mandate” to reform Social Security. The response was that only a small percentage – around 40 percent – thought Mr. Bush had a mandate.

But that is the wrong question. Whether people think he has a mandate is a vastly different question than asking if they approve of what he is going to do. It stretches credulity to believe that 52 percent of the voters voted for Mr. Bush, but don’t really approve of the initiatives that he ran on.

Again, this illustrates the uselessness of some polls.

As for having a mandate, the word is defined as a command or an authorization given by a political electorate to its representative. So, exactly at what point is a win a mandate? If not 52 percent, then 55 percent? Or 60 percent?

And if George Bush did not get a mandate from the people, what is he supposed to do? Since he only out-polled John Kerry by three percent, or 3.5 million votes, should he govern differently than he would if he had gotten 55 percent? Should he govern sometimes as George Bush, and at other times like John Kerry?

The entire argument about mandates is a silly distraction. Whoever is elected President is the President, and he had better govern aggressively, not wave in the wind.

Somehow, I believe George Bush will pay no attention to these piddling efforts to derail his second term, and I think everyone ought to be pleased that the man who won won’t allow himself to be manipulated.


Buffalo said...

Interesting question and one I couldn't answer. I don't think an overwhelming majority wanted Bush in charge. A win is a win and he is the man. What concerns me more than a public mandate, does the President consider the win a mandate from his god?

James Shott said...

You're right that the election was fairly close, and the implication that three or four percent is not "overwhelming" is obviously correct. But the win was decisive and, and as you said, he's the man.

I don't worry about him hearing the Lord tell him to invade Iran or North Korea, or anything like that, and then he obeys the voice. I view Bush's religiosity as a stabilizing influence that provides a basic moral structure in his life more, than a driving force. After all, he isn't a Muslim, he's a Christian. Very different in their doctrines.

I don't always agree with him. I think sometimes he isn't conservative enough, like with the illegal Mexican immigrants. But of all the Democrats who sought the nomination, he had no peer, and I'm pleased that he, and not John Kerry, is in the White House.

wasnt-me said...
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