There are so many ways to look at elections.
The most direct and naïve way is to say that the message of one candidate was better accepted by the electorate, resulting in a mandate, as in, “elections have consequences.” Tax the 1%, that’s what the electorate voted for.
Then there are demographics. We are no longer a WASP nation, and not only are there more minorities, but they now have the temerity to vote. So policies that are sensitive to the wishes and interests of these groups are justified.
And then there are the election technicalities. How are the campaigns organized, how effective are they? Increasingly, campaigns are unbelievably technological and organized. See today’s Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2012/president/2012/12/23/the-story-behind-mitt-romney-loss-the-presidential-campaign-president-obama/2QWkUB9pJgVIi1mAcIhQjL/story.html
Obama made wonderful electoral decisions; Romney, not so much. I agree that running an election is a relevant test for running a country, not completely, but not irrelevant. But where does that leave us in judging “a mandate?” If you were good at running an organization that could collect money and deploy it skillfully, what does that say about taxing the 1%? It would seem, not that much.
On the other hand, if you don't have a message that resonates, you can't get the enthusiasm to run a campaign, which still largely utilizes volunteers. And the attention the campaigns focus on getting the right message at the right time to the right people speaks to the importance of the basic message, and the particulars.
So, in the end, even if the technical expertise in running a campaign seems so predominant a factor, I guess the idea of a mandate for the main themes of a campaign are at least allowed to be pursued. But add together the technical aspects of the campaign and how close the division of the vote really is – 51% to 48% is “decisive” – and you have to say, leadership counts, boldness counts, and elections are permissive.