A mandate election sends representatives to office with clear instructions on how to navigate policy and the future of the country. It offers a roadmap for leaders with an obligation to stay true to the route voters chose.

This was not that kind of election. It’s time for a new American mandate.

The dust of the 2020 election still stirs as results — and litigation — materialize. In the midst of a pandemic, economic unrest and civil strife, many citizens had hoped the end would be clear, definitive and deliver a clear command to the victors to govern in a certain way. As with most things in 2020, that mandate might be different than expected and more difficult to discern.

With a closely and hotly contested presidential election, it would be difficult for either Democrats or Republicans to claim a resolute mandate from the American people. If anything, it appears the votes were cast, once again, for divided government. 

Having a decisive victory can create a critical link and commitment between voters and politicians. A pair of elections researchers describe a mandate this way: “The public has spoken its word at the voting booth, instructing those elected as to its preferences, which they should heed.” They continue, “From a policymaking perspective, mandates are seen as windows of opportunity rather than commands, as providing an extraordinary policymaking opportunity for the newly elected and empowered government to seize upon.” 

Your 2020 election tracker
Biden’s path to victory born in unlikely places, including on a March day in Salt Lake City
Is former Utah teachers leader slated for Education secretary in Biden administration?
Trump, Biden supporters rally at Utah’s Capitol after Biden declared winner

The final outcomes and disputes will ultimately be settled in the coming days. The date for the presidential inauguration is in 73 days and, regardless of who is in charge, the country continues to face enormous challenges. There are clearly differing views on how best to move the country forward. That is a good thing. America is always a better nation when differing ideas, policies and solutions are presented, debated and ultimately enacted.

The 2020 election will not be identified as a mandate election for those sworn into office come January. Perhaps it is a time to flip the meaning of the mandate. 

Rather than having the mandate come from voters to those they elect, a new American mandate might instead come from the country to its citizens. It would be less about policy and more about principles and people. Such a mandate would foster understanding, shared commitment and lead citizens to look to each other and their communities to solve problems locally. 

The mandate might include a better framework for promoting progress:

  • Root out contempt and remove wedges of hate.
  • Rely on people, not political parties.
  • Value the differences in others. 
  • Listen more.
  • Suspend judgement.
  • Recognize differences in opinion are not differences in patriotism or principle.
  • Disagree better.
  • Believe in the better angels of our nature.

Adlai Stevenson may have captured such a new American mandate best when he said, “Who leads us is less important than what leads us — what convictions, what courage, what faith …”

We believe reflecting on a new American mandate of what leads us will do more to move the country forward than obsessing on who has power in the nation’s capital.