Michael McDonald and Ian Budge have recently advanced an interpretation of democratic governance based on what they term the ‘median mandate’. This perspective locates the key element of liberal democracy in a close correspondence between government policy and the policy preferences of the median voter on the left-right scale. The cross-national evidence they produce in favour of this interpretation is impressive, but it largely hinges on a method for measuring the median voter position in each election that relies on the positions of the various parties in the election and the vote shares they received. This article examines the validity of the median mandate hypothesis when median positions are measured more directly from public opinion surveys (particularly, the Eurobarometer and Comparative Study of Electoral Systems series). The findings show that choice between distinct alternatives, rather than conformity to the median, more accurately characterises governance in democratic systems.