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You don't get a do-over; those votes count

02/28/2011 5:07:18 PM
Noticed today that Public Policy Polling, a national political polling company, determined that if voters in Wisconsin could do it over they'd support defeated Democratic nominee Tom Barrett over Scott Walker by a 52-45 margin.

After winning election as Wisconsin governor, Walker’s program of corporate tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by cuts for union workers and the elimination of collective bargaining has caused quite the uproar. We’ve all seen the protests on TV. The weird thing is the shift in voter attitudes. Walker didn’t mention collective bargaining on the campaign trail, but he was very upfront about what he’d do when he got into office – public sector unions were going to get hit and hit hard, and services were going to be slashed while corporations were going to get tax cuts. He was pretty open about it.

Why, then, would public opinion shift as soon as Walker started actually, you know, doing it? For the same reason that President Obama campaigned on health care reform and then the moment he started talking about actually doing it everyone lost their minds: There is no such thing as a mandate. Typically, the American electorate has almost no idea what the candidates stand for when they actually vote for them.

A political “mandate” is essentially a myth, as illustrated in Robert Dahl’s “Myth of the Presidential Mandate.” Be careful when you hear a politician talk about the will of The People, because The People Have Spoken. This almost always means that the politicians are doing what they want to, because they won. They have no idea what the people want. The people have no idea what the people want.

If you think the last election was a mandate to drastically cut spending for social programs, OK. But watch what happens when there are actual draconian cuts. Jobs will be lost, services will disappear and the economy will slow down. And The People won’t like it. Telling them, “Well, you voted for it” won’t wash. Because they really didn’t. That’s not what they said. That’s just what the politicians of the moment wanted to hear.

And then The People will really start to want their do-over.

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