MAIL SURVEYSSeeSELF-ADMINISTERED SURVEYS.
MANDATE A charge from the electorate to enact or dismantle some public policy. Mandates are traditionally associated with dramatic election outcomes-- either overwhelming victories or wrenching defeats. President Reagan's impressive reelection victory in 1984, for example, was interpreted as a mandate to continue the Reagan agenda. But there are some serious problems with inferring mandates from popular elections. The ambiguity of party platforms and imprecision of candidate positions often make it uncertain just what a party stands for or a politician is advocating. Even worse, voters themselves often lack a deep understanding of election issues ( M. L. Young, 1987:22).
Polls, however, are not elections, and unlike elections, they can be definitive about public opinion. Surveys can reveal specific preferences, how strong they are, and even why people hold them ( Crespi, 1989:18-20). But even polls have some limits as popular mandates. One problem is the limited scope of polls. Polling can portray the broad policy direction people prefer, but few polls explore the issues in enough depth to spell out the detail and specificity policy makers need to implement policy. A second constraint on poll mandates is their advisory status: if polls are indeed referendums, they are nonbinding ones. Unlike electoral victories, polls confer no power and award no office. And no elected official is responsible for acting on them. Both elections and polls have limitations in revealing public mandates--elections because we don't always know what they mean, and polls because they don't always mean what they say. The nature of mandates and how to measure them remains elusive in American political life. See alsoCONTINUING ELECTIONS; PLURALISTIC IGNORANCE; PUBLIC OPINION.