During the presidency of George W. Bush, Democrats and the left often accused Bush of governing as though he had a “mandate,” meaning a sense of authority for a partisan agenda that could be presumed had he won a large majority of the popular vote. This was said to be wrong because he did not win by a large majority of the popular vote; in fact, he lost the popular vote in 2000 and won it only narrowly in 2004 (50.7% vs. Kerry’s 48.3%).
Now that Barack Obama has won the election, before even a day has elapsed I’ve seen several posters on this board referring to Obama’s “mandate,” and today Paul Krugman wrote that Obama has a mandate. Yet, according to the latest results, Obama captured 52% of the popular vote. I know that in a country with ~170 million registered voters, a difference of 1.3% amounts to a couple million. Still, is that a mandate? The way the term has been used in the past, it’s been made to sound as though the elected official needed a huge majority to govern with a “mandate”–I never heard numbers tossed around, but I always imagined the percentage would need to be greater than the low 50’s.
So where do we draw the line in terms of what counts as a mandate?