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Republicans Think They Won a Mandate, but Did They?

3 years ago
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Republican leaders are sounding like men with a mandate. Sweeping House gains and new governorships in nine key swing states in the 2012 presidential election will do that for a party. "We are determined to stop the agenda Americans have rejected and to turn this ship around," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
So what, exactly, have Americans rejected? Republicans have vowed to repeal the new health reform law, which McConnell called "a metaphor for the government excess that we witnessed over the last two years." The national exit poll of 17,504 midterm election voters, however, was less definitive. It found that 48 percent want the health law repealed and 47 percent want it either expanded (31 percent) or left as is (16 percent).
McConnell further said that Republicans would "work with the administration when they agree with the people and confront them when they don't." How will that play out when it's time to debate President Obama's draw-down strategy in Afghanistan? Republicans have scored him for setting a July 1 date to begin bringing out U.S. troops. But the exit poll suggests "the people" want an end to the 10-year-old war; voters disapproved of it 54 percent to 40 percent.
And what about Medicare and Social Security? The Republican "Pledge to America" doesn't even mention them in its "plan to stop out of control spending." The two entitlement programs are the main drivers of soaring government spending, but they're also very popular. "The people" might not approve of cuts or savings, or moving them into the private sector. Does that mean Republicans won't touch them?
Mandates are complicated things. Just ask Bill Clinton, who thought he'd been elected at least in part to pass a health reform law. Or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was convinced that the country would rejoice in a government shutdown (shockingly, most Americans reacted badly). Or Obama, who campaigned on pretty much the same health plan that he signed into law. Who knew that at least in the short-term it would turn into a polarizing political albatross, not to mention a Mitch McConnell metaphor?

There were, to be sure, many signs that the triumphal GOP is on the same page or at least in the same chapter as voters. By three-to-one, those questioned in the exit poll said they had negative feelings about the way the federal government is working. They certainly seem to prefer a smaller government, with 56 percent agreeing that government is doing too many things "better left to businesses and individuals."
They gave Obama an approval rating of only 45 percent and more than half -- 52 percent -- said his policies would hurt the country in the long run. And though economists of all types say the Democrats' stimulus package helped avert a depression, two-thirds of this week's voters said it either hurt or made no difference.
For all the GOP talk about voters sending a message, however, only 37 percent said their vote was meant to express opposition to Obama. About a quarter said it was to express support and another 37 percent said Obama was not a factor. Both parties appear to be in need of image rehab: 53 percent said they had a negative opinion of Democrats, while 52 percent said the same of Republicans.
An overwhelming majority of the 17,504 people in the exit poll -- 86 percent -- said they were worried about where the economy is headed in the next year. A way-too-high 31 percent said someone in their household had lost a job or been laid off in the last two years. But only 23 percent blamed Obama for current economic problems. They assigned greater blame to Wall Street (35 percent) and former president George W. Bush (29 percent).
Republicans trying to listen to the people's views on the top priority of the next Congress will find a near even split between reducing the budget deficit and spending to create jobs. The exit poll found 39 percent for the former, 37 percent for the latter. Another 19 percent said it should be cutting taxes.
The same type of split is apparent on the first issue Congress will be addressing after the election: Bush-era tax cuts that will expire unless they are extended in a lame duck session this month. Recent polls show an even split between keeping the lower rates for everyone, or letting them expire on household income above $250,000. A similar split was apparent in the exit poll -- and another 15 percent said they wanted to let the lower rates expire for everyone, presumably to further the goal of deficit reduction.
So who do you listen to when "the people" are divided? Do you just listen to those who agree with you? And do you listen to "the people" when it means ignoring your own judgment? What about when they are saying the opposite of panicky experts and officials who tell you the U.S. and world banking systems will fail if you don't inject $700 billion into the financial system right now? (Yes, that would be the Troubled Asset Relief Program that spelled doom this year for so many politicians who supported it in 2008 at the imploring of the terrified Bush economic team).
McConnell provided some guidance on who NOT to listen to: Obama. Chastened Democrats, he said Wednesday, had learned that "choosing your president over your constituents is not a good strategy." So, leave your judgment at the door, resist entreaties from your president, and mirror the people who sent you.

The tricky part, as Republicans move back into positions of influence, is to figure out what those people really want and how it fits with what you have said you wanted to accomplish. Sometimes they're not the same.

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288 Comments

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nnanciejean

On the federal level this election was about stopping the obama and pelosi agenda. The only way to do that was to vote republican. Two years of "no" is better than two more years of "yes" to every spending program out there. On the local level, in our state, it was definitely a mandate for republicans. The dems have been in control of everything for many years and we are $3 billion dollars in debt. The people in our state want the republicans to try and clean up the mess left by the state dems. Our governorship went republican along with the state legislature. We are proudly no longer a "blue" state. The republicans need to get their act together before 2012 and have something solid to sell to the voters so obama doesn't get in by default. I hear pelosi's victory party this past week was once again on OUR dime. Shame on those dems.

November 13 2010 at 7:41 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
lpdp

They have not won anything, just this year we had too many poll watchers, and less Acorn groups helping than in the past to get our extra votes in, once the presidential election comes into play we will have regained and out purchased the votign power of the Republican party. Socializm will not be out played by some election, we will suceed at all cost.

November 09 2010 at 7:20 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
cpadmitchell

Let the market rule. If it benefits business profits to pollute, then pollution is ok. If meat packers do not get inspected and people die, it is ok. If highway bridges deteriorate and fall into rivers and canyons it is only right and proper. The only goal is to stop spending. If this hurts this Country, so be it. It is the will of the people.

November 08 2010 at 5:50 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
paulthomasprt

Poker is the answer. If the Republicans had to "show their hand" after all the betting is done, we could solve some problems. Instead, when asked for the answers they are allowed to walk away, claiming to have won. For example, when a discussion on the deficit takes place, Dems use numbers and math. Repubs just claim they are right, no matter what the numbers(or score) say. Don't just say "You are wrong. I'm right, but don't ask me to prove it. I just am." In poker, that isn't good enough. Nobody allows people to play like that. Why don't the news writers simply use headlines the way repubs do-"Republicans Refuse To Answer!!"-over and over. That IS what they do, so say so, and stop acting like refusing to answer is OK. Keep in mind that nobody on the Dem side thought the Repub idea to say "the stimulus failed" before it was enacted was correct. Yet people believed it. We just can't bet on the American people seeing through lies and deception, so it has to be pointed out. Tell the American people you can't get an interview with so and so, because they refuse to answer questions. Period. In BIG headlines. Over and over. Don't invite them to the poker table until they play by the same rules everybody else does.

November 07 2010 at 8:04 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to paulthomasprt's comment
hnryafrika

They don't have to be invited to the table...they won. I'm curious how "Dems use numbers and math". Give me one example of dems using legitimate math to explain how their programs won't bankrupt the country...just one. Just make sure to make it real math.

November 13 2010 at 9:13 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
sysaphus71

Well, I guess if you call being rational, logical ,responsible and operating in a more financially sound manner , a mandate then, yes....hell yes.

November 06 2010 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
petegems541

Mandate? Landslide? Shellacking?? If you look at the popular vote for Democrats and Republicans for all House races across the country: the Democrats got about 36 million or 47% of the votes compared to 53% for Republicans - this despite high unemployment (and many races where Republicans ran unopposed, especially in highly-gerrimandered Texas). If 4 in 100 voters had gone the other way, the Democrats would have won this popular vote. This was hardly the "landslide" reported by the media, the "mandate" that Republicans are claiming, or the "shellacking" that the overly-contrite President called it. For complied House election data, see http://fairsharetaxes.org - click on "2010 Election." I voted for the President and the Democrats to fight for us, the bottom 95%. The top 5% have an army of lobbyists and the entire Republican party fighting for them. Why can't the Democrats push through the tax cuts for the only bottom 98% (or 95%) in their lame-duck session? The last time I checked they still hold large majorities in both Houses. They have the votes in the lame-duck House and can maneuver in the Senate to circumvent the filibuster - that's the way the Republicans passed the original Bush tax cuts. It just takes a little guts. Then if the Republicans want to pass additional tax cuts for the top 2%, let them bring this to floor and explain it to the people in 2011.

November 06 2010 at 10:27 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to petegems541's comment
sysaphus71

Pete , then using your logic then if only 3 in a 100 had voted the other way Mccain would be President. Oh and I guess California , New York and Illinois AREN'T gerrymandered. Popular vote means nothing ....then only 5 or 6 states would control all elections...is that what you want? as far as taxes...the top 5% pay 60% of all income taxes the top 10% pay 74% the bottom 50% pays 1% In other words ,,,you don't pay taxes already ..in fact many get money back that they didn't pay in...do you call this paying your fair share...I don't!!

November 06 2010 at 4:44 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
N68Firebird

I am a paying member of AOL, and I will demand that they get rid of such "authors" as this who print such slanted articles. We all now know who are the rabid liberals, they have come out whining in droves since the majority has spoken with their overturning of the House.

November 05 2010 at 5:09 AM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
BULLMAN

Obama Pelosi did not ask or want what the american people wanted only what they want as eletists. Now Americans have spoken but I doubt if it will make a difference these next two years. 2012 will really make the difference. They are not stupid.

November 05 2010 at 2:08 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to BULLMAN's comment
Ann

Then American people were dumb-down by FOX, Palin and Republicans that they didn't know what would or could help them. They voted for the same people that took their homes away, put them in debt and lower their life style. President Obama and Speaker fought hard for the middle class and the poor. What has Republicans ever done for you. Take you life and give it to the wealthy business men.

November 05 2010 at 10:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
tailgatrz

Yaw not 2 smart air ya? It has nothing to do with Racism. It has to do with Cost and right and wrong with our laws. Who will pay for it? Everyone? That is Socialism and That is not economic freedom. That is not America, or what this country is supposed to be about. There are plenty of countries to move to if you do not like the way this one is built. Why do people insist on changing the only (now questionably) free country to be like everywhere else. Do you people even know what this country stands for? We are not a Democracy we are a Constitutional republic. If you do not believe me say the pledge of allegiance. Under democracy there is too much legal corruption. Example: If 51% of the population voted to exterminate all the American Indians it would be law. That is how Democracy works. Power to the Masses even if it is unethical. Our founding fathers (yes our) were wickedly smart, they developed a Constitution and laws that keep power to the public, but cannot be abused IF WE FOLLOW THEM. I am an unemployed Libertarian American Indian with NO insurance. I am on payments from my last hospital bill, I am not asking you to pay for it, so do not ask me to pay for yours. So go ahead and attack me too. You people out there that take sides without looking at your own party are just mad at life itself. And by the way everyone has health care in an emergency.

November 05 2010 at 12:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

Apparently Jill Lawrence has a problem with english language comprehension. Two leading Republicans, John Boehner and Marco Rubio, both said that the GOP should not take this election as a mandate. How much clearer can they be?...

November 05 2010 at 12:28 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

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