Institutional Change and the Presidential Mandate

Document Type




Format of Original

32 p.

Publication Date

Winter 2013


Duke University Press

Source Publication

Social Science History

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

doi: 10.1215/01455532-2346870


Often treated as a unified concept with a single definition, the presidential mandate actually encompasses multiple definitions, each connected to distinct ideas about democracy and presidential leadership. This article looks at how and when modern presidents have used mandate rhetoric and seeks to explain changes in presidential mandate-claiming patterns. Using an original dataset of 1,467 presidential communications from 1933 through 2009, I find that after 1969 presidents became more likely to use election results to justify their actions. However, they also became less likely to emphasize the magnitude of the election result, focusing their mandate rhetoric instead on campaign promises and distinctions between candidates and parties. Evidence suggests that this shift is the result of a combination of several factors: changes to the presidential nomination system, polarized party politics, and an overall decline in presidential approval ratings. Based on this research, I conclude that ideas about the presidential mandate are closely connected with the political conditions and challenges facing presidents. As the place of the presidency has shifted in American politics, the ways in which presidents interpret and communicate about elections have also changed.


Social Science History, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Winter 2013): 483-514. DOI.