Obama's Mandate To Go Long

As Thomas Frank pointed out in a recent column for The Wall St. Journal, Barack Obama has hardly been acting as though he won, let alone as though he has a mandate. But if his decisive victory in November and his dominant majorities weren't enough to convince him, perhaps the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll (h/t TPM) will.

To start off, it should be noted that WaPo finds Obama's transition with an outstanding 80% approval rating, up 13 points since late November. On the subject of whether Obama has a mandate (versus those who say he "should compromise"), a slim majority says 'Yes':

Do you think Obama has a mandate to carry out the agenda he presented during the presidential campaign, or should he compromise on the things the Republicans strongly oppose?

Has mandate 50
Should compromise 46

While a 4 point spread doesn't seem like a lot, that's actually quite impressive that Obama has inspired half of the country to urge him to implement his policies completely absent Republican input, especially considering, ya know, what a right-wing nation we are and how much people despise "bitter partisanship"!

But the more dramatic result for me was on the question of whether Obama should go long or just make incremental change:

Do you think Obama has a mandate to work for (major new social and economic programs) or for (only small policy changes)?

Major new programs 71
Small policy changes 22

Not only does this signify an overwhelming mandate for Obama to implement real, dramatic change in the policy arena, but it's really a call on Obama to use government to make Americans' lives better. It's a complete and utter rejection both of the Republican Party and of their mantra that government is the problem; the American people clearly see government, in the hands of Barack Obama at least, as the solution.

The respondents to this poll are sending an unmistakable and unambiguous message to the President-elect to go long. People get that that's the only way that whole "change" thing is truly going to happen. Obama would probably say that the rhetorical (and more substantive) concessions he's made to Republicans over the past 2 months and his call to work across the aisle in a bi-partisan way blah blah blah have been a means to an end in order to build the sort of political good will with both the Republicans in the minority AND the American people that will enable him to implement the bold and dramatic change that he's been talking about for two years now. One hopes that no later than Wednesday President Obama will cease building that good will and start using it.

Tags: Barack Obama, mandate (all tags)



Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

This is kind of a weird poll.  Only 50% of the people think Obama has a mandate, but 71% think his mandate is for major new programs?  Does that even make sense?  Note that the latter question was asked of everyone, not just the 50% who said he had a mandate in the first place.

This strikes me as a bad poll question that you can't infer a whole lot from.  If someone believes Obama doesn't have a mandate, how are they expected to answer the question that asks what kind of mandate he has?  People are forced to choose an answer that they've already said they don't agree with.

Having said that, I'd also point to a couple other disappointing numbers from this poll:  Only 51% agree with the general approach of drastically increasing federal spending to help the economy, compared with 44% who say the emphasis should be on avoiding a big increase in the budget deficit.  Also, 53% of people still claim to favor a generic "smaller government with fewer services" as compared to 43% who want a "larger government with more services."  In other words, we have yet to see a paradigm shift on these baseline questions.

My conclusion is that Obama still has a lot of work to do in terms of selling the specific things he wants to do, or the things I hope he wants to do in any event.

by Steve M 2009-01-19 04:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

People want more services for themselves, not for "those lazy welfare bums". They've drank the Republican Kool-Aid.

by antiHyde 2009-01-19 07:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

Well sure, we all know people all say they want smaller government in the abstract, but then they object whenever you bring up cutting something specific.  But my point is simply that these standard questions are getting the same sort of responses they always do.

I am not making an argument that people want some Republican agenda of "smaller government" or whatever, because they'd be voting for Republicans if they did.

by Steve M 2009-01-19 08:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

It's going to take some time to undo 30 years of Reganomics brainwashing...

Normally, I'm in the camp of balancing budgets myself... but, this is a crisis that isn't going to be fixed by cutting spending... in fact, it will make the problem a hole lot worse...

But, I've studied economics... most Americans have not...

by LordMike 2009-01-19 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

Didn't Keynes advocate deficits in recessions and surpluses in booms? It takes a little more sophistication than that, but it's the general idea.

by antiHyde 2009-01-19 01:38PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

Could someone please send a link to these numbers to the democratic congressional leadership?  My biggest worry is the collection of wimps that compose our majority in both legislative chambers.

by lockewasright 2009-01-19 05:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

I'm still worried that there's going to be a big cave-in, whether it's card check or health care.

And there's going to be a big fear of a repeat of 1994.

by esconded 2009-01-19 06:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

A cave-in on universal healthcare coverage with Daschle at HHS?  Who you trying to kid? We'll some get incrementalism on healthcare.

card check, I mean employee free choice, is all or nothing. He has no wiggle room, and neither do the Democratic office holders. The unions have carried oceans for over a decade to work toward getting this majority in place. If we do not deliver EFCA, it is a big defeat.

But I think you are spot on, with regards to the two issues that Obama's priorities seem to differ with the Democratic agenda.

As for '94, no way. Though we could lose seats in the senate and in the house if '10 looks like early '09 still, in terms of the economic landscape, losing the majority seems out of the question.

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-01-19 06:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

I remember Daschle as being rather conservative. I'd much rather see Howard Dean at HHS. He could also have understood when people like the AMA tried to give him a technical snow job.

by antiHyde 2009-01-19 01:41PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

Jerome is right.... all polling shows that people are willing to give Obama a long time to prove himself...

1994 was different in so many ways.... The democrats were the old guard, many democrats sabotaged Clinton's agenda (with Clinton often helping that process with a bunch of policy and political mishandling), and there was the bubbling Perot movement which had siphoned enough votes for Clinton to win without a majority, and Gingrich co-opted their message to get a big 1994 win...

I was listening to that odious Bill Cunningham on the radio last night (who now says that Obama is conservative, after he said he's the most leftist candidate ever.... whatever)... he had on some republican pollster (missed who he was) talking about the ails of the repbulican party... anyways, even this guy said that the republicans were very lucky to get those huge gains in 1994... almost every race was decided by a point or even less... The environment is very different now... people want to give democrats a chance to fix the problems that republican government has given them...

We're going to get a lot more than two years.  This is more like 1932 than 1992...

by LordMike 2009-01-19 08:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

Actually if you click through to the poll, you'll see that an alarmingly large percentage of the people who are confident in Obama's ability to fix the economy think that we'll see the results in less than a year.  I realize people are optimistic, but when folks have unrealistic expectations it's pretty hard to fulfill them in the end.

Having said that, I have to agree with you that people are not going to render a negative verdict on Obama's economic plan in only a couple years.  The GOP has gotten clobbered in two straight elections, and the numbers in this poll for people's confidence in the Congressional Republicans are just horrendous (Democrats' numbers are nothing to brag about, but they're not nearly as bad as the other guys).  There is just no way that two years from now, people decide we need to go right back to the same folks who got us into this mess.

Also, the 1994 election was a realignment that was coming sooner or later, particularly with regard to the Southern states and districts that had no good reason to be represented by a Democrat any longer.  There's no obvious reason to fear something similar in 2010, and in fact, when you map out the Senate seats up for election in two years things still look pretty good for us.  Some people have this very simplistic view of the 1994 election (Clinton screwed up on health care or whatever and then bang, look what happened) but the long-term trends are plainly visible if you take a closer look.  The tipping point didn't have to be 1994, but it wouldn't have been forestalled for very long no matter what the Democrats did.

However, in the longer term the Democrats definitely need to do a bolder job of advancing an agenda, as we move into 2012 and 2014 where we start having to defend all those Senate seats we won in the last two elections.  The winning strategy for Congressional Democrats in 2006 and 2008 was basically to keep their heads down, go along with Bush on national security issues to avoid stirring controversy, and win in the end simply by not being the icky Republicans; clearly, the message of "vote for us, we're not the Republicans!" is going to have an expiration date at some point.

by Steve M 2009-01-19 08:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

I am quite sure that under "major new program" people mean health care reform.  Only.  Maybe readjustment of the tax code.

Seriously, the polling numbers on issues say that substantial Democratic mandates exist in economic issues and ethics/management of government.  The latter takes the form of pushing out Republicans, the former is about taxation and healthcare reform.

There is only passive mandate on social/justice issues, foreign policy, conduct of war, and dealing with terrorism.  Obama didnt stand for substantial initiatives on those things, nor did Congress.  He ran on being a moderate.  Hillary was the more liberal/activist candidate who, for being not so moderate, was deemed "too radical" and "too divisive".

by killjoy 2009-01-19 06:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's Mandate To Go Long

Why do you assume Obama does not know that he has a mandate?

Maybe the problem is what we are seeing is what he is willing to offer under a mandate. That this is his idea of "bold."

Has anyone ever thought of that? That this middle of the caution is who he is.

by bruh3 2009-01-19 08:18AM | 0 recs
dont squander it with all this cuts in benefits ta

one should hope he does not squander this goodwill with his summit on "enittelment" reforms. pelosi said yesterday she agrees that some cuts to ss and medicare may be needed. that wil win the dems lots of votres in 2010 and cause furor in the public.

by art3 2009-01-19 10:00AM | 0 recs


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