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June 03, 2014 11:12 AM Mandate By Poll

By Ed Kilgore

In reporting on a finding in the latest ABC-WaPo survey, The Fix’s Aaron Blake uses a very annoying term: mandate:

Democrats in recent weeks weighed whether to abstain from involvement in House Republicans’ new Benghazi investigative committee, labeling it an unnecessary probe into questions that have already been answered.
The American people disagree.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows a majority of Americans — 51 percent — approve of the new panel, while 42 percent disapprove….
Previous polling has shown support for the new investigation is even higher, so the totality of the polls suggests that the new probe has a mandate from the American people.

Aside from the irritating multiple use of “the American people” to refer to 51% of poll respondents, Blake’s assertion that marginal poll preferences represent a “mandate” is a use of that term that I don’t see applied consistently by WaPo or anyone else. If poll findings at any given moment are supposed to determine the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a given position on a particular issue, then we would have long since seen the enactment of climate change and gun safety legislation, and nobody would be talking about Social Security or Medicare privatization of benefit cuts ever again.

With the entire Republican Party united behind Benghazi! as a major campaign theme, and given the leading nature of poll questions about whether or not to investigate something many among “the American people” have little detailed knowledge of, the deck is pretty well stacked on that topic. I’ve argued all along that the illegitimacy of the Benghazi! probes beyond the earliest inquiries was demonstrated by the fact that even the most negative construction of the events of 9/11/12 do not prove anything beyond bad luck, heat-of-the-moment confusion, and poor crisis management. Additional “investigations” are really just an excuse to make the same arguments about the same facts over and over again. But throwing a term like “mandate” into the stew makes no sense at all.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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