What mandate now for President Bush?
No one missed the absence Tuesday of the annoying use of voter data obtained from "exit polls" to "call" elections even before polls closed.
Malfunctioning software prevented such predictions. A use of the exit poll data that will be missed, however, is learning what motivated voters to behave as they did.
Thus in giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress, one must wonder:
- To what extent were voters swayed by Bush's strong personal appeal, visits to 15 crucial states and unprecedented politicization of Cabinet officers?
- In what ways were Bush's coattails effective? Was it his war on terrorism, with its tightening of constitutional protections, and the impending attack on Iraq?
- Did voters instead shift toward the right by embracing such Bush domestic projects as permanent tax cuts for corporations, accelerated tax cuts for the well-off, drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve and a flood of far-right judicial appointments?
- In keeping with the wisdom that "all politics is local," to what extent did voting results reflect better attention by Republican candidates to local issues? This surely best explains Linda Lingle's win here, not national or international concerns.
- Were voters in part turned off by timid and rudderless Democratic campaigns?
The nation's tilt to the right is in sum rather slight. Still, the result in Congress will advance the economic stratification of American society, alter the character of the nation's courts and prolong a stridency abroad that has offended as many friends as foes.
Bush will surely claim the election as a firm mandate for his program (after all, he claimed a mandate from the last election, which he numerically lost). What is unclear is how much of this the voters intended.