No mandate for liberalism
Mandate: 2. An authorization to act given to a representative.
In the two weeks since the election, pundits and politicians have been debating whether Barack Obama has been given a mandate to advance his party’s agenda. Post-election analysis shows that Obama and his allies do not have a mandate to expand government or pursue a more liberal agenda.
A series of polls released by Gallup last week found little desire for liberal priorities. In one poll about Obama’s second term priorities, economic issues dominated. Ninety-two percent said it was important to “make major cuts in federal spending,” including 72 percent who felt it was extremely important.
Ninety-three percent of respondents felt preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons was either extremely (79 percent) or somewhat (14 percent) important.
On immigration, 86 percent of respondents felt it was important to “stop illegal immigration.” “The weight of public opinion on immigration policy more closely favors the Republicans’ emphasis on halting illegal immigration than the Democrats’ emphasis on creating a path to citizenship for existing illegals,” the Gallup report states.
The three issues that polled lowest were all items high on the liberal agenda: increasing taxes on the wealthy, amnesty for illegal immigrants and major cuts to the military.
The poll clearly shows no mandate for liberalism. As Gallup concludes: “From these data, Obama appears to have less of a mandate than an assignment: fix the economy.”
Another post-election Gallup poll found strong skepticism about whether Obama will be able accomplish Americans’ goals. A minority of Americans believe Obama will be able to substantially reduce the federal budget deficit (39 percent), avoid raising taxes (38 percent) or control illegal immigration (36 percent).
The poll also found that Obama’s campaign of fear and smear took a toll on his ability to inspire hope. Nearly two-thirds of Americans think Obama will not be able to heal the nation’s political divisions, a sharp difference from 2008, when 54 percent felt he could.
These numbers are similar to those found in a post-election survey by the Pew Research Center. Pew found that only 54 percent say Obama elicits feelings of hope, while 69 percent said so in 2008. Obama also lost 12 points from 2008 on the question of whether he makes them feel proud. Clearly, four years of Obama’s divisiveness have taken a toll.
The Pew poll belies the idea that the GOP should shift to the center. “Republicans and Republican leaners remain of the view that the GOP leaders should move in a more conservative direction, not a more moderate one, by a 57% to 35% margin,” Pew found.
But “Democrats and Democratic leaners…continue to support more moderation from their political leaders: Nearly six in ten (57%) want Democratic leaders to move in a moderate direction, while 33% want them to move in a more liberal direction.”
In an op-ed last week, Pew’s president, Andrew Kohut, reported that “only 43% of voters this year said they wanted an activist government (compared with 52% in 2008), and 49% continued to disapprove of Mr. Obama’s health-care law (compared with 44% approving).” Obama won the election, but his agenda remains unpopular.
Much post-election commentary has focused on Republicans’ need to attract more support from Hispanics and other minorities. But, as Kohut reported, the GOP did well among many demographic groups, increasing its share of the presidential vote from 2008 among men (four percentage points), whites (four points), young voters (six points), white Catholics (seven points) and Jews (nine points).
Romney also won independent voters by five points, a group Obama took by eight points in 2008.
Given all these data, one wonders how Obama triumphed. Obama won by tearing down Romney with a torrent of negative ads, especially during the Republican primaries. Even Romney’s solid debate performances couldn’t overcome all the negativity, which portrayed Romney as unfeeling and disconnected, and made voters think the president cared more about people like them.
According to Kohut, on Election Day only 47% of voters viewed Romney positively, against 53% for Obama. And Obama beat Romney by 10 points on the question “Who is more in touch with people like you?”
Republicans need to make changes, but I suggest the party follow Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s advice in offering voters a more inclusive message. The GOP must be the “party of ideas, details and intelligent solutions,” Jindal said, and it must “fight for every single vote. That means the 47 percent and the 53 percent. That means any other combination of numbers going up to 100 percent.”
I agree. Republicans need to learn the right lessons from the election. Republican values—strong families, faith, personal responsibility and freedom, among others—are not unique to specific subsets of the electorate. They are universal values, and it is Republicans’ job to remind Americans of that fact.