It happened in the Australian election last year, but even more so in the preceding Australian election a few years ago, and now it’s happening in the recent US election. Leaders who are elected then claim that they have received a ‘mandate’ to run their full policy agenda. In John Howard’s case, that meant continuing to put asylum seekers in concentration camps, continue deregulation and privatisation initiatives, eroding the rights of workers and generally running a corporatist, hard ‘economic rationalist’ policy line domestically along with a slavish attitude toward the alliance to the US and a certain level of xenophobia toward the region and the rest of the world. (OK, you might have guessed which way I voted… ;p)
But people didn’t vote on each of those issues, and where never given the opportunity. On balance, across the issues, enough voters preferred Howard to his opponents (Kim Beazley in the earlier election and Mark Latham in the most recent one) to give him sufficient seats to form government. But I’m quite sure that for many, what they were really thinking was something like “I agree with Howard on border security and education, but not on unfair dismissal laws”. But Howard went ahead and claimed that the election result gave him a mandate on every segment of his policy platform, as well as pretty much anything else that popped into his head.
It shouldn’t be that hard to fix that: at the time of the election, why not identify say 10 policy issues (education, health, trade, international policy, economic policy, taxation, etc)? The parties would know what issues would be on the ballot paper before the election, so it would be up to them to campaign strongly on the issues (rather than on fear and personalities) and make their positions clear. Voters would then place a vote for a candidate, but also choose between the positions of the parties (not just the Big Two, but maybe 4-5 – throw the Greens and the Australian Democrats in there too) on the various policy issues.
Even if those votes couldn’t be made binding on the winning party (and it’s hard to see politicians voting for them to be – and that’s what it would take with the system set up the way it is), at least they could be made public, so that the leader had a very clear sense of which policies had received mandates and which had not. Whaddaya reckon?
This ties in with some of the questions Lorne has been asking on Sirdar Inc about decision making processes and government, although his concern has been more with the judiciary than with elected politicians, I think.