The Mutable Mandate: Crafting the Constructed Message, Meaning, and Strategic Subjectivity in the Post-Election Campaign for 2004

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Dan B. Thomas
Larry R. Baas


Taking it as axiomatic that, in the current historical context, aggregate results
from American national elections rarely if ever “speak for themselves,â€
this research employs Q methodology to examine the subjective meanings
toward the outcome of the 2004 presidential contest as these were formed
and forged over the course of what we have termed “the post-election
campaign†(Thomas `&` Baas, 1996). Based on recent historical
experience and a handful of scholarly investigations, we argue that
these ex post facto subjective accounts deserve to be regarded as not
only alternative “political constructions,†but pending their narrative
appeal as mythic mandates—“stories we tell ourselves about ourselvesâ€
(Levi-Strauss, 1978)—crucial manifestations of “politically strategic
subjectivity†with profound implications as states of mind with the
power to affect the course of action undertaken by like-minded leaders
controlling the policymaking levers of the state. In this instance, two
studies are reported: one undertaken at or near Bush’s second
inauguration; the other conducted six months into his second term. What
we find is consistent with Hershey’s (1992) proposition that the course
of arriving at “conventional wisdom†on the meaning of a given electoral
outcome, particularly the nature of the mandate it warrants, follows a
“winnowing†pattern whereby an initial pool of plausible yet diverse
constructions of the meaning of the vote undergoes simplification and
consolidation over time, crystallizing eventually into a narrative—or
small number of complementary stories—that gains acceptance as
“conventional wisdom.†While our findings to a degree corroborate this
claim, they fall short of a full-fledged confirmation. In light of
electoral realities since, especially Democratic success in
capturing both houses of Congress in the 2006 Midterms, there remains
substantial contention over what can be concluded from the 2004 vote.
Accordingly, we devote a Discussion to possible reasons for this, and
what it may signify regarding current patterns of political debate and
meaning-making in a politically polarized setting quite averse to
detached, bipartisan compromise or consensus-building.

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How to Cite
Thomas, D. B., & Baas, L. R. . (2008). The Mutable Mandate: Crafting the Constructed Message, Meaning, and Strategic Subjectivity in the Post-Election Campaign for 2004. Operant Subjectivity, 31(1). Retrieved from

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