Members of the media continued to echo Republican claims that President George W. Bush's victory over Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election awarded the president a decisive mandate to carry out his agenda.
On November 5, Bush pronounced: "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it." Vice President Dick Cheney claimed on November 3 that "the nation" gave Bush "a mandate."
Despite such claims, facts suggest that Bush's narrow victory is far from a decisive mandate. Yet many members of the mainstream media have ignored or downplayed Bush's extraordinarily narrow margin of victory and the unprecedented number of voters who voted for Kerry to express their opposition to the president's agenda:
- 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, 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: "With the majority of the popular vote behind him [President George W. 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, 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, 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." [CNN, In the Money, 11/6/04]
- Michele Kelemen, National Public Radio (NPR) diplomatic correspondent: "Others doubt President Bush will change much given his election mandate and his strong convictions in foreign policy." [NPR, 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, 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 Channel, 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," 11/4/04]
As Media Matters for America has documented:
- With the exception of the 2000 election, Bush's popular vote margin of about 3.6 million votes (out of approximately 115 million total votes cast) was the smallest since 1976, when then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter (D) defeated President Gerald R. Ford (R) by about 1.7 million votes.
- Though Bush won more votes -- 59.2 million -- than any presidential candidate in U.S. history, Kerry's vote total -- 55.7 million -- was still greater than any U.S. presidential candidate in history prior to 2004. That means more Americans cast their vote against Bush than against any other presidential candidate in U.S. history.
- As Wall Street Journal Washington editor Albert R. Hunt pointed out (WSJ.com subscription required) on November 4, "It was a GOP sweep, but it also was the narrowest win for a sitting president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916."
- Percentage-wise, Bush's victory was the narrowest for any wartime incumbent president in U.S. history. (For the purpose of this calculation, Media Matters for America counted the following presidential elections as wartime incumbent elections: 1848, 1864, 1900, 1944, and 1972. Popular vote data for 1812 is unavailable.)