What If You Claimed A Mandate, But No One Gave You One?

John Boehner

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John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the incoming Speaker of the House and Senate Minority Leader, respectively, are reading the results of the 2010 midterm elections as a mandate from Americans. In an op-ed in today’s Washington Post (which, curiously, also boasts a contribution from Ben Affleck, a piece that strikes a much more genuine tone than the Boehner-McConnell missive.)

The GOP is framing a new narrative: that the 2010 elections are a clear signal from voters that they prefer the extreme conservative agenda (of cutting the deficit while extending the $700 billion Bush tax cuts, which are actually mutually exclusive endeavors) to the “liberal” reforms of health care, energy and immigration.

In fact, reading the op-ed, you’d think the GOP had a majority. The authors (low-level staffers, no doubt) even claim to have turned President Obama’s focus to their plans, and issue threats against lame duck action on immigration, etc. The undercurrent is clear: this is the GOP’s version of 2008.

Except it’s not.

A Republican win doesn’t equal a mandate, and there’s data to prove it.

First, consider sample size – the sheer volume of people voting.

The numbers show something very different from Boehner’s claim that the elections of Republicans were a rebuke of Obama and his policies. In fact, 25 million more people voted for Obama (70 million) in 2008 than voted for all GOP House of Representatives candidates combined in 2010 (45 million).

The raw data also shows that voters were deadlocked over Obama’s performance (47% approved, 47% disapproved) but were clearly unhappy with congress (73%). Even more telling, Congressional Republicans are more disliked (67%) than their Democratic counterparts.

So what was the 2010 GOP tidal wave about, if not about delivering a mandate to Boehner, Inc? Again, the data show that for the last three elections, it’s been about the fickle Independent voters hooking their wagons to whichever party was not in power – in other words, “change.”

And yet, there’s one clear difference in how voters view, post-election, the party they’ve thrust into power. In 2006, the Dems’ party favorability went up five points. Compare that to the GOP in the most recent election, where the grand old party’s approval inched up a statistically irrelevant single point.

So, to summarize for Mr. Boehner, on the chance he has another op-ed assigned to staffers and wants it to be accurate: it’s not a mandate. It wasn’t about Obama, or health care (actually, deficit concerns sent independents running to vote GOP) and voters still don’t like the GOP.

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