Saturday, July 23, 2011

Compromise vs. principle

An interesting feature of current politics is that many Republican politicians seem convinced that the public wants them to take a hard-line position on taxes and spending, and that accepting any compromise will cost them votes.  This is almost certainly wrong, not just because most people are somewhere in the middle, but because most people have a general preference for compromise over conflict in politics, regardless of the specific issue.  A Gallup Poll from January has a good question on this point:

"Where would you rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 means it is more important for political leaders to compromise in order to get things done, and 5 means it is more important for political leaders to stick to their beliefs even if little gets done?"

Only 17% chose 5, while 35% chose 1.  (12% chose 2, 23% chose 3, and 12% chose 4).  People who said they were moderates favored compromise by 41% to 14%, while conservatives favored it by a much smaller margin, 27% to 22%.   It makes sense that people in the middle should be more favorable to compromise.  The surprise was that liberals were just like moderates, favoring compromise over sticking to beliefs by  43%-10%.  Maybe this was because liberals were in a weak position after the outcome of the November 2010 elections.  But maybe it reflects a general difference between liberals and conservatives--some people say that liberals are inclined to compromise and seeing the other guy's point of view, while conservatives just want to win.  It would be nice if you could compare answers to the question at different times, but unfortunately it's only been asked twice, the first in November 2010 (just after the mid-term election).  However, there are some related questions that were asked after the election of 2006, which I'll look at in my next post.

PS:  I just found a post on the Marginal Revolution blog citing the same Gallup poll in support of the idea of a general difference between liberals and conservatives.

PPS:  And this one by Ezra Klein saying no, it's just a reflection of the current political situation.

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