Election results should not be taken as a mandate

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I have refrained from writing any articles about current events for quite some time. I don't really intend for this blog to be a forum for political discourse; I would much prefer to think and write about technical matters. Still, events are happing and the outcomes are likely to affect me and mine for some time to come.

The voting for the 2020 General Election in the United States of America is done, and has been for several days now. The final counts are yet to be finished, but the numbers for the Presidental election thus far show a very tight race. This does not really come as any surprise; as far back as I remember, the Presidental elections have been fairly close races.

The USA is, and has been for a very long time, very much divided along party lines. This division is close to an even split between the Democrats and the Republicans, with a minority of people who identify with the handful of alternative political parties. The Presidency flips back and forth between the two main parties every few elections. Each time it does, the winning party takes the results as validation of their agenda and acts as though they have a mandate “from the people” to act upon.

However, looking back at the popular votes during my lifetime1, the widest margin of victory was still only 60% of the popular vote. For many of the elections, the winning candidate did not even receive 50% of the votes.

The Declaration of Independence starts out saying “. . . to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Looking at the votes, we see that 40% or more of the population did not agree with the agenda of the victorious candidate. Could we not also infer that 40% of the population is not exactly consenting to be governed by that victor?

Would not prudence thus dictate that a President not take victory to equate to a “mandate from the people”? But rather, that the strong differences of opinion among large numbers of the population means that every effort must be made to find common ground that can serve all of the people?

Our Presidents in recent memory apparently do not agree. Hopefully one day we will have a President who will show more wisdom and compassion.

  1. Summary of popular election result data from Wikipedia:

    | Year | Candidate         | Party |     % |
    | 1968 | Richard Nixon     | R     | 43.4% |
    | 1972 | Richard Nixon     | R     | 60.7% |
    | 1976 | Jimmy Carter      | D     | 50.1% |
    | 1980 | Ronald Reagan     | R     | 50.7% |
    | 1984 | Ronald Regan      | R     | 58.8% |
    | 1988 | George H. W. Bush | R     | 53.4% |
    | 1992 | Bill Clinton      | D     | 43.0% |
    | 1996 | Bill Clinton      | D     | 49.2% |
    | 2000 | George W Bush     | R     | 47.9% |
    | 2004 | George W Bush     | R     | 50.7% |
    | 2008 | Barack Obama      | D     | 52.9% |
    | 2012 | Barack Obama      | D     | 51.1% |
    | 2016 | Donald Trump      | R     | 46.1% |