Taking it as axiomatic that, in the current historical context, aggregate results from American national elections rarely if ever “speak for themselves,” 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 ourselves” (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.

Operant Subjectivity

Dan B. Thomas, & Larry R. Baas. (2008). The Mutable Mandate: Crafting the Constructed Message, Meaning, and Strategic Subjectivity in the Post-Election Campaign for 2004. Operant Subjectivity, 31(1), 2–37. doi:10.15133/j.os.2007.006