President Bush and his supporters are unabashedly crowing over their victory on election day. That's fine. They won. They step over the line when they claim a "mandate" for their policies though. Here's why:
Bush's Narrow Victory: Bush's re-election vote was the lowest of any re-elected President since Woodrow Wilson in 1916. (Look it up at the USA Election Atlas) The power of incumbency is formidable. A President facing re-election has all the powers of the Federal purse to support his bid. Further, the electorate has had four years in which to see what actually was done during his first term, so there's a solid reality to the President's candidacy that no challenger can match. That's why every re-elected President since Nixon averaged an improvement of 10 points over their vote percentage the first time around. Both Bush I and Carter suffered defeats with major reductions of their point totals, largely attributable to the existence of third party candidates for their re-election campaigns.
Presidents Nixon and Reagan legitimately claimed mandates for their policies with improvements on their vote totals of 17.25% and 7.98% respectively. President Clinton did not claim a mandate for his policies, nor did anyone bestow such upon him, despite an improvement of his vote of 6.22%. So apparently the necessary percentage improvement necessary to claim a voters mandate is above 6.22% and below 7.98%.
President Bush achieved no such threshold. His vote total is no more than 3.2% above his 2000 total. His electoral vote total is the lowest for sitting Presidents since Woodrow Wilson in 1916. There is no basis for claiming a mandate by any honest reckoning of the numbers.
Bush's Misinformed Supporters: Looking at a revealing study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, it found that the majority of Bush supporters actually misunderstood the basic issues positions of their candidate. Taking that study and applying it to the elections results, we find that:
**62% of the American people thought they were voting for a President that favored the Kyoto Treaty on Global Climate Change. (Bush opposes Kyoto.)
**72% believed they were voting for a candidate that wanted to ban nuclear weapons testing. (Bush wants to continue nuclear testing.)
**77% believed they were voting for a candidate that favored comprehensive labor and environmental standards in international treaties. (Bush opposes such provisions.)
**54% thought they were voting for a candidate that would stop building the missile defense system until research showed it could be done. (Bush favors immediate construction of the missile defense system.)
**56% thought they were voting for a candidate that would either reduce military spending or keep spending at today's levels. (Bush favors increased military spending.)
It's too bad that this study did not focus on domestic issues, but a clue that a similar pattern holds true for domestic issues is found in the Florida elections results. While Bush tallied some 52%, a referendum to increase the minimum wage in the state passed with over 72% of the vote. Bush opposes increasing the minimum wage. Will he claim a "mandate" when that issue comes to Washington?