Political science has not come to terms with the idea of electoral mandates. The discipline's view is a hodgepodge of competing claims. In this article we review the empirical issues about mandates asking whether or not mandates occur and with what effect. We observe evidence of mandates as social constructions, as dialogues in the Washington community and in the press which serves it.We find that these dialogues accurately reflect election results – consensus emerges from actual sweeping election victories and not from mere strategic attempts to claim policy mandates. We find that Congress is highly responsive to the consensus interpretation. It engages in bursts of unusual policy activity which run for some months and then cease. And we find that these have a substantial policy legacy, that the changes that occur in these bursts produce some of the most important movements in American public policy.
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