The Pew Research Center has a monster new report out this week on the political polarization in the United States, and the depth of the 121-page study is a veritable gold mine for social scientists. But there’s one takeaway that seemed especially important.
It’s tough to summarize research that covers this much ground, though Ezra Klein highlighted some of the more important takeaways, including the fact that Americans are edging towards a “kind of dangerous mega-polarization”; among the politically active, Republicans and Democrats “hate each other”; politicians “want their supporters angry and afraid”; and ideologues “don’t just want different policies,” they want “different lives in different places with different people.”
But Christopher Ingraham flags one of the more striking – and explanatory – results.
You’d expect partisans on either end of the ideological spectrum to be less fond of compromise than those in the middle. But as it turns out, compromise is basically a liberal value – 82 percent of consistent liberals prefer politicians who make compromises. Less than a third of consistent conservatives say the same.
This is no small realization. On the left, generally speaking, there isn’t just an expectation that compromise is a necessary part of the process; there’s also a belief that compromise is worthwhile – liberals like policymakers who engage in give and take to reach a goal.
For the right, regardless of the subject at hand, it’s the exact opposite: conservatives want policymakers who won’t compromise. Ingraham added, “A party that is ideologically predisposed against compromise is going to have a very hard time governing, particularly within a divided government.”
The right often prefers to deny this, but compromise is a necessary part of the American policymaking process. It’s built into the cake. Like it or not, it’s a feature, not a bug.
Think about how a bill becomes a law. A member comes up with an idea and seeks allies. They’ll reach a compromise and send the bill to committee, where there will be more compromises, before it reaches the floor, at which point members will want to make more changes. It’ll then go to the other chamber, where there will be more compromises.
It’s a system designed to force policymakers to reach consensus with other people, some of whom they may not entirely agree with.
When one major party – out of two – decides there will be no compromises, some on the right find it admirable. After all, they’re sticking to their core convictions and standing up for principles. But they’re also throwing the American system of governing out the windows.
We often have this sense that “deal-making” is an ugly side of politics, but that’s a shame. When sincere policymakers accept concessions to work towards a shared goal, that’s not evidence of corruption or a system overcome by depravity. Rather, it’s policymaking through compromises – the same as any family, business, or group of disparate people go through when trying to collectively reach a resolution.
Republicans think this is the wrong way to go – and if the Pew data is accurate, they’ve been egged on by their base that sees compromises as inherently wrong.
Is it any wonder that the American policymaking process has grown paralyzed?
For the both-sides-are-always-to-blame crowd and pundits like Ron Fournier, this reality is the subject of fierce resistance. The obvious asymmetry – one side believes in compromises, the other does not – simply does not compute. If there must be a pox on both houses, it’s inherently distressing to realize that the American system has stagnated and one side bears more responsibility than the other.
But the evidence-based reality can only be denied for so long.
Jon Chait had a good piece on this the other day.
The conservative revolt against compromise expresses itself constantly. It comes through in the ever-present trope of citing the length of legislation as a primary reason to oppose it. It likewise comes through in the way conservative intellectuals routinely attack bills as a “stew of deals, payoffs, waivers, and special-interest breaks” – which is to say, they hate the fact that passing bills in Congress requires cutting deals with disparate constituencies, which is how legislation works.
Tom Mann added:
Republicans have become a radical insurgency—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition. The evidence of this asymmetry is overwhelming.With the release of today’s Pew study, that overwhelming evidence becomes even stronger.
The blame-both-sides-regardless-of-reality crowd will balk, cover their eyes, put their fingers in the ears, and deny what it plainly true. But they’ll be wrong.