In 2008, will media recall 2004 declarations of Bush “mandate”?

President Bush was re-elected in 2004 with 286 electoral votes, the smallest popular-vote margin since 1976 (excluding the 2000 election) and the lowest electoral vote count for an incumbent president's re-election since 1916. Nevertheless, many in the media were quick to echo Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that “the nation” gave Bush “a mandate.” It remains to be seen whether the media will apply the same standard in assessing the results of the 2008 election.

In 2004, President Bush was re-elected with 286 electoral votes, defeating Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) by 3.3 million votes -- the smallest popular-vote margin since 1976 (excluding the 2000 election) and the lowest electoral vote count for an incumbent president's re-election since Woodrow Wilson drew 277 electoral votes in 1916. Nevertheless, many in the media were quick to echo Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that “the nation” gave Bush “a mandate.” It remains to be seen whether the media will apply the same standard in assessing whether the results of the 2008 election constitute “a mandate” for the projected winner.

Among the many media outlets that declared Bush's victory a “mandate” (identified by affiliations and titles from 2004):

  • Paula Zahn, CNN host: “A president with a mandate, a 10-seat majority in the Senate, at least 25 seats in the House. So everything should be smooth sailing for Republicans, right? Well, maybe not.” [CNN's Paula Zahn Now, 11/8/04]
  • Chicago Tribune editorial board: “In trying to advance an ambitious second-term agenda, President Bush has made it clear he intends to make every use he can of the assets at his disposal, starting with the electoral mandate he got last week.” [Chicago Tribune, “Memo to Bush: Just say 'no,' ” 11/8/04]
  • John Roberts, CBS News chief White House correspondent (now with CNN): “With the majority of the popular vote behind him [Bush], with the Electoral College win, with a mandate that perhaps many people didn't allow him to have in the first term, can he afford to be more magnanimous with the press?” [CNN's Reliable Sources, 11/7/04]
  • Andy Serwer, CNN host and Fortune magazine editor-at-large: “Interesting time for the president, obviously, he [Bush] seems to have a mandate from the people to go ahead and do what he wants to, his bidding. Where do you think this is going to take him?” [CNN's In the Money, 11/7/04]
  • Christine Romans, CNN anchor: “When I talk to Democrats and people who watch the Democratic machine, they're furious that this was so close again and that now the president has a mandate.” [In the Money, 11/6/04]
  • Michele Kelemen, National Public Radio diplomatic correspondent: “Others doubt President Bush will change much given his election mandate and his strong convictions in foreign policy.” [NPR's Weekend All Things Considered, 11/6/04]
  • Carol Costello, CNN anchor and reporter: “To American politics now and the mandate. President Bush is promising to use his election mandate to push his agenda forward.” [CNN Daybreak, 11/5/04]
  • Ceci Connolly, Washington Post staff writer: “Well, I certainly think that there is a mandate [for Bush]. I think we have to go a little bit careful in terms of what specifically it is a mandate for. I mean as we've all agreed, a lot was discussed in this campaign. Interestingly, what you heard President Bush focus on was tax reform, Social Security changes, partial privatization. And continuing what he calls the war on terrorism.” [Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, 11/5/04]
  • David Sanger, New York Times White House correspondent: “But Mr. Bush no longer has to pretend that he possesses a clear electoral mandate. Because for the first time in his presidency, he can argue that he has the real thing.” [The New York Times, “Relaxed, Certainly, but Keeping One Eye on the Clock,” 11/5/04]
  • Dan Chapman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution global economics and business reporter: “Bush, buoyed by a popular mandate and a more Republican Congress, will probably receive the financial and military wherewithal to fight the insurgency and rebuild Iraq.” [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Bush gets voters' nod on Iraq, but outlook risky,” 11/4/04]
  • Keith Miller, NBC News correspondent: “Bush, who won by more than three and a half million votes, has a solid mandate that will force the attention of America's enemies and allies.” [NBC's Nightly News, 11/3/04]
  • Rafael Lorente, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) Washington bureau: “Americans not only gave President Bush a mandate, they also gave him the necessary tools in the form of more Republican House and Senate colleagues to push through his conservative agenda.” [Sun-Sentinel, “Bush now has the tools to energize his priority programs,” 11/4/04, syndicated by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services]
  • Doyle McManus and Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times staff writers: “Four years ago, George W. Bush won his first term with fewer votes than his opponent, but governed as if the nation had granted him a clear mandate to pursue conservative policies. This time, Bush can claim a solid mandate of 51% of the vote, which made him the first presidential candidate to win a clear majority since 1988 -- a point Bush aides made repeatedly Wednesday.” [Los Angeles Times, “Majority Win Could Make Second Term More Partisan,” 11/4/04]
  • Tony Karon, Time magazine columnist and senior editor: “George W. Bush took the reins of power with the confidence and certainty of one who had carried a landslide mandate to implement his own agenda. This time, of course, his claim of a popular mandate is incontrovertible. His party has strengthened its grip on both branches of the legislature, and freed of any first-term restraints that might be thrown up by reelection concerns, President George W. Bush is well positioned to even more vigorously pursue his agenda.” [Time, “Victorious Bush Reaches Out,” 11/3/04]
  • Wolf Blitzer, CNN anchor: “My sense is that the president will see this as a mandate on his policies, because the Republicans also did very well in the House of Representatives, did very well in the U.S. Senate, picking up seats in both. He gets over 50 percent, 51 percent. And he's going to see this as a mandate in the next four years to try and move the country in the direction he wants it to move. He will try to bring the country together in the short term, but he's going to say, he's got a mandate from the American people, and by all accounts he does.” [CNN election coverage, 11/3/04]
  • Renee Montagne, NPR host: “Well, as you say, the president's people are calling this a mandate. By any definition I think you could call this a mandate. How will he govern?” [Morning Edition, 11/3/04]
  • Chris Matthews, MSNBC host: “Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews. And welcome to MSNBC's post-election coverage live from Democracy Plaza in New York's Rockefeller Plaza. Yesterday voters went to the polls and reelected President George Bush, giving him a mandate in his second term.” [MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, 11/3/04]

Several conservative media figures and outlets also quickly declared Bush's narrow victory a “mandate”:

  • Wall Street Journal editorial board: “The voters did [decide the election] -- including millions of conservative first-timers whom the exit polls and media missed -- emerging from the pews and exurban driveways to give President Bush what by any measure is a decisive mandate for a second term. ... Just because an election is close doesn't mean it isn't decisive. ... ... that Mr. Bush has been given the kind of mandate that few politicians are ever fortunate enough to receive.” [Wall Street Journal editorial, “The Bush Mandate,” 11/4/04]
  • Bill Bennett, conservative author and nationally syndicated radio host: “Having restored decency to the White House, President Bush now has a mandate to affect policy that will promote a more decent society, through both politics and law. His supporters want that, and have given him a mandate in their popular and electoral votes to see to it.” [National Review Online, “The Great Relearning,” 11/3/04]
  • Then-CNN host Tucker Carlson: "[N]obody has done it since 1988. The president wins reelection with a majority of the vote. It is a mandate. What will he do with it now? [CNN's Crossfire, 11/3/04]
  • Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal contributing editor: “He [Bush] has, I would argue, a mandate now. You can bet he's going forward boldly. He announced it today in his victory speech. He said, 'Honey, I'm not just going to lower your taxes. I am transforming the tax system.' ” [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 11/3/04]
  • Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst: “There's no doubt about it, this was a vote against, by the red-state folks who gave the victory to George Bush, it was a rejection of blue-state America. It was a rejection of their values, their attacks on the president. ... And the idea, it seems to me, that somehow the folks who won should now surrender part of whatever mandate they have to the folks who lost -- I can tell you, what we're hearing on this panel, people out there in red-state America are finding it very offensive.” [Hardball with Chris Matthews, 11/3/04]
  • William Kristol, Weekly Standard executive editor: “The hair-pullers and teeth-gnashers won't like it, of course, but we're nevertheless inclined to call this a Mandate. Indeed, in one sense, we think it an even larger and clearer mandate than those won in the landslide reelection campaigns of Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984, and Clinton in 1996.” [The Weekly Standard, “Misunderestimated,” 11/15/04 issue]