Saturday, November 01, 2014

A mechanism underlying our current political paralysis

Thomas Edsall points to the fascinating work of Berkeley graduate students Broockman and Ahler, who puncture the common assumption that a large segment of the electorate is made up of moderates who hunger for centrist compromise. From their September paper, a pessimistic conclusion (slightly edited):
Because each citizen prefers a different mix of policies, there is no one mix a politician could adopt that would broadly satisfy citizens. (For example, a citizen might support liberal tax policies but be opposed to same-sex marriage, but would be defined as moderate if those responses are averaged.) Thus it is natural that many citizens appear frustrated with the choices they have in American elections; yet, given the relatively idiosyncratic nature of citizens’ own preference bundles, it is also unclear that there is dramatic room for improvement.
Because each citizen’s pattern of views across issues appears unique, each citizen is likely to be “disconnected” from the positions their representatives take in his or her own way, a situation which the election of more moderates – or more of any other one particular kind of politician – could not broadly resolve.
The only resolution of this impasse would seem to be for citizens to 'chill out' a bit on the moralistic energy of their 'right way' on a particular issue, and feel more tolerance for other positions. I remember in the 'good old days' of Lyndon Johnson's 1960's presidency, how opponents seemed willing to bend just a bit more and value getting a result, even if it compromised their values. (Even, by the way, though opponents of Medicare were perhaps more virulent than current opponents of The Affordable Care Act.)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:45 PM

    Ancient Greece, Rome or 13th century Swiss towns solved this very problem through direct democracy. Given modern technology, why can't we cut the middlemen?