Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Tea Party's Mandate

There is no question that the Congress that comes in next January will be more conservative than the current one. But just what will it have a mandate to do? The answer to that question is far from clear.

Tea Partiers would have us believe that they have a mandate to dramatically slash government spending even while holding the line on taxes. But exit polls do not bear this out. A majority of voters said the most important issue facing the country right now is the economy. And indeed the economy is in poor shape with high unemployment plaguing many Americans. The Democrats were in power for the past two years when the economy was bad and haven’t been able to significantly improve it even if they have staved off a depression. Those who thought the economy was in poor shape supported Republicans 68%-28%.

It is true that 40% of voters said the biggest issue facing the next Congress will be reducing the deficit, and that they broke heavily for the Republicans. But a very close 37% said Congress should spend more money to create jobs. When we get specific, there is no decisive mandate to repeal Obamacare. Americans said the new law should be repealed 48%-47%. Even that is a bit misleading. Among every group except senior citizens, at least a plurality wants to keep the law. When it comes to tax cuts, Americans want to repeal them for the wealthiest Americans by a margin of 53%-38%.

With members who want to sharply cut government spending, I wonder if tea partiers are in the process of over-interpreting their mandate from voters.

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