After a comically long vote count President Obama was officially declared the winner in Florida this weekend.
This means Obama ended up winning the electoral college with 332 votes to Romney’s 206. Obama got 50.5 percent of the national popular vote compared to Romney’s 47.9 percent. This is only a small decrease from Obama performance in 2008 when he won 365 electoral votes (by also taking Indiana and North Carolina) and 52.9 percent of the popular vote.
There is talk about how Obama’s victory was large enough for him to claim a “mandate.” The term though is just a vague meaningless word in modern American politics. When it comes to power in Washington the only thing that really matters is majorities not “mandates.”
Democrats did secure a solid majority in the Senate this election. Theoretically, if the Democratic majority reforms the Senate rules to make confirmations much easier and quick, they could significantly improve Obama’s ability to run the executive branch. The office of the President does have substantial powers which can be used to pursue priorities without Congressional action.
On the other hand Republicans still hold the majority in the House. Obama can try convincing the Republicans to do what he wants by throwing around the word mandate, but given that it didn’t work after Obama’s even larger victory in 2008 there is no reason to think it will work this time.
A mandate without a congressional majority is like the magic in Peter Pan. If your opponents don’t believe in it, it doesn’t work.