POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy


Broadly, the term ‘mandate’ means an order or an authorization. Mandate stems from the Latin ‘mandare’, which means ‘giving out’ or ‘giving’.

Mandate in Politics

In political terms, a mandate describes the authority given by an electorate to someone acting as its representative. Parliamentarians often have a political mandate, and therefore assume the task of representing the will of their voters.

One must also differentiate between free and imperative mandates:

Free mandates

A free mandate grants authorization without any preconditions, meaning that the holder of the mandate is free and bound solely to the confines of his/her conscience. An example would be mandates in the German Bundestag.  

Imperative Mandates

An imperative mandate sets certain restrictions on the policies an elected official can enact. The holder of a mandate is therefore required to reflect the will of his/her electorate. 

In electing the German Bundestag, one also distinguishes between direct mandates, party mandates and overhang mandates.

See also: Constituency, Legal Rule, US Congress

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