Liberal Compromise and Conservative Power

by on January 14, 2011 at 7:33 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Political Science | Permalink

Paul Krugman has complained bitterly that Obama has compromised the progressive agenda. A new Gallup poll shows that such compromise may be an almost inevitable result of conservative and liberal ideologies.

Gallup recently polled a sample of Americans on whether it was more important for politicians to stick with their beliefs, even if little is accomplished, or compromise and get something done. Very conservative Americans were markedly more in favor of politicians sticking with their beliefs while very liberal Americans voted for compromise.

  Gallup
Importantly, this tells us not just about the beliefs of conservatives and liberals but about the incentives of conservative and liberal politicians. Conservative politicians face a high price of compromise and liberal politicians face a low price. Moreover, everyone knows this so conservative politicians can credibly commit that they will not compromise while liberal politicians cannot. As a result, liberals compromise more than conservatives.

If you can pull it off, credibly commiting not to compromise is a neat trick because you can get more of what you want even without an increase in basic aspects of political power such as votes. But where does the credibility originate? Is it inherent to the respective ideologies? The term conservative certainly suggests an unwillingness to change let alone compromise. Or, to turn full circle, perhaps conservative politicians are better at using apocalyptic rhetoric to instill anti-compromise feeling in their constitutients which in turn gives conservative politicians greater power.

Hat tip to L. Indyk.

Andrew January 14, 2011 at 3:40 am

What compromise? Seriously. What can they offer me?

"Give me 50% of what I want right tf now" is not compromise. They don't really want compromise. If they did, they'd be pondering what I want.

AF January 14, 2011 at 3:48 am

I also wonder if this is a matter of "what I say I want" and "what I really want." I don't see liberals being at all interested in compromise on things like abortion restrictions or at least no more so than conservatives are willing to compromise on that issue.

Also is there any data that one ideological side does or does not compromise more than the other?

Vinnie January 14, 2011 at 4:32 am

We should take a cue from Dr. Hanson and refer to them as "farmers" and "foragers" rather than "conservatives" and "liberals." It would clear up a lot.

Rich Berger January 14, 2011 at 4:47 am

Well, considering that conservatives are roughly twice as numerous as liberals, maybe they are just realizing that power is on the conservative side.

eccdogg January 14, 2011 at 4:57 am

I think a big part of it is that conservatives really don't care if nothing gets done since the vast majority of "getting stuff done" increases the size of government.

I know this is my view as a conservative libertarian. "Getting nothing done" is a pretty attractive option to me vs say "passing a health care bill" even if that health care bill were to include some conservative goodies but still increased the size and scope of the federal govt.

T. Shaw January 14, 2011 at 5:00 am

This is oversimplification. If one were dependent one would need to compromise.

Could it be that, in general, conservatives are "pay check" people and liberals are "food stamps" people? Makes more sense to me than "farmers" vs. "foragers." That is an insult to foragers.

Or, (again generalization!) conservatives' core values might be personal responsibility and individual liberty while liberals' vile views seem to be big government's duty to take care of the collective and collective guilt (for everything) ascribed to the evil, racist, unjust American Republic and the hated private sector.

Right Wing-nut January 14, 2011 at 5:16 am

Alex, is this site so slow that you have to resort to such bald lies about those you disdain?

Conservatism does not mean opposing any change, and it never has. Liberals are at least as adept at incendiary rhetoric as conservatives and they always have been. (As they must be, as they seek to motivate change).

The fact that RIGHT NOW, the left has scored a recent series of major political victories means that liberal voters are more fat & happy while conservatives are lean & hungry. (See the recent post about "Do lower prices make us lazy?") That the most recent elections represent an electoral reversal means furthermore that conservatives have a strong confirmation signal that their immediate goals are the majority goals of the country.

Outsider January 14, 2011 at 5:20 am

I just watched the Tuscon Speech.

Where is ours?

Andrew January 14, 2011 at 5:40 am

What 'needs to get done' and of those what are the good and viable options on the table.

More than half of Obamacare was motivated by the unrealized FUTURE unsustainable growth in medical spending. That's a future problem. Future problems don't need to get done. That is simply a fact. The 'needs to get done' part, the now problem, if you believe it, was people 'not having access to healthcare' and that part was all a liberal fantasy…I mean…priority.

It's funny how they 'compromised' by threatening that the government was going bankrupt. "Give me what I want or the bunny gets it!"

Josh January 14, 2011 at 5:59 am

It may be a neat trick, but I don't like the potential consequences of the ensuing Nash equilibrium, if both sides retreat to further extremes so that the compromising average is more in their favor. Even if the movements cancel out, there are external costs…

George January 14, 2011 at 6:15 am

What does "compromise" mean? Maybe liberals think they get more from it than conservatives do? You have this ridiculous post that centers around an undefined term. If liberals stake out an extreme position, and move the dial leftward, a "compromise" may be far more leftward than is worth it for conservatives. Maybe that's why conservatives don't compromise, because "compromise" really ust means "surrender" in many cases.

GOD, this blog sucks now…

Michael January 14, 2011 at 6:16 am

I think that Jim and eccdogg are pretty close to correct.

Let's go back to fundamentals. If you define a conservative as someone who believes in the status quo, and a liberal as someone who is a progressive, then these results fall pretty quickly out of ideology. Any compromise represents some progress from the status quo, therefore it represents a victory for the "liberal", and a loss for the conservative.

Interestingly, these labels don't much reflect much modern politics, and there we see the effects largely reversed. Do liberals want "compromise" on Social Security reform? Or Medicare vouchers? Or tax cuts or deregulation? In general, many liberals will not.

Dana January 14, 2011 at 6:20 am

I think many of these comments exhibit the conservative bias against compromise (even as some of them deny it).

For example: "A compromise between conservatives and liberals moves the country to the left. There is not symmetry between the two sides."

If you've redefined government as The Source of All Evil, then compromise when structuring any government policy is seen as a pact with the devil.

I mean this only half in jest. I do think the right (particularly the populist right) is animated in part by religious fervor that is a legacy of the culture wars. Issues are viewed as a struggle between Good and Evil, not a choice between good and bad policy. Perhaps ironically, many ideas borrowed from the usually anti-religious libertarianism have become the scripture underpinning many of these arguments.

John Thacker January 14, 2011 at 6:36 am

I do think the right (particularly the populist right) is animated in part by religious fervor that is a legacy of the culture wars. Issues are viewed as a struggle between Good and Evil, not a choice between good and bad policy.

Interestingly, this is the view that I have of the left. Is there any reason to suspect that the left, broadly speaking, thinks that Don't Ask Don't Tell, the decision to go to war or not (and presumably whether or not "Bush lied") is anything other than a struggle between Good and Evil?

Conservatives have a tendency to feel like they're continually fighting rearguard actions, whereas liberals have a tendency to feel like history and progress is on their side.

Aaron January 14, 2011 at 6:46 am

Perhaps conservatives are commenting on what their side should be doing while liberals are commenting on what the other side should be doing. The term "politicians" is pretty vague.

John Thacker January 14, 2011 at 6:58 am

If Republicans prefer cutting taxes and spending, but prefer cutting taxes and keeping spending the same or raising it to raising taxes, and Democrats are the reverse– which the evidence seems to show– then cutting taxes while raising spending is a compromise, even if it ends up being a bad idea.

JCL January 14, 2011 at 7:14 am

"everyone knows this so conservative politicians can credibly commit that they will not compromise while liberal politicians cannot"

Seems like a pretty tautological point to me.

Andrew January 14, 2011 at 7:30 am

"to give a new drug benefit without raising the taxes for it"

PAYGO was kind of an odd duck. It lasted 11 years and apparently expired, not repealed. I'm not sure it ever made it into canon. Also, it kind of takes the fun out of running a government if you actually have to appropriate tax receipts for specific spending projects.

I suspect a lot of the conservative voters think that tax cuts are spending cuts just like a lot of the liberal voters think that spending increases are robust.

Zephyrus January 14, 2011 at 7:32 am

I'm laughing at the people saying "well, it's not a real compromise if I disagree with someone and I end up not getting exactly what I want!"

It shows an astounding lack of self-awareness. You can say that compromise is inherently bad because it gives something to the other side. That's totally coherent and understandable as a position. But don't pretend that you're actually open to compromise.

Here's a question: can any of the anti-compromisers come up with a compromise over the past 2 years that they would have liked to see made? Note that this does not mean coming up with an alternative that was totally perpendicular to the offerings on the table–even as a Dem, I'd have preferred we blast away employer based healthcare, implement universal catastrophic insurance, abolish Medicare and Medicaid, and create functioning HSAs supplemented with a robust national individual insurance market, but good-faith means I can't go and say any solution that isn't exactly that isn't a compromise.

Funny thing is, compromise fits most cleanly into the conservative perspective, in the traditional small-c conservative sense. It allows for various invested institutions to not have their expectations cast about too sharply in either direction, which is more stable and growth-promoting than solutions implemented from on high.

Modern Republican partisan politics, however, is much more about identity than policy.

Tom Grey January 14, 2011 at 8:31 am

Conservative politicians should be against compromise, and try to stand by principles, but some times, or most times, one bill or policy supports one or two principles, but is against another one.

can any of the anti-compromisers come up with a compromise over the past 2 years that they would have liked to see made?

I would have liked to see a $1 trillion stimulus bill composed exclusively of tax cuts: income, payroll, Fed. Gasoline.
This compromises the anti-deficit principle in order to promote the anti-tax principle at a time when the economy actually does need more stimulus.

Conservatives want both less gov't, and better gov't — even tho it is known that with better gov't, the voters will accept/ ask for more of it.

In practice, tax cut stimulus is faster and far more Win-Win effective than gov't directed spending which is Win-Lose.

Popeye January 14, 2011 at 9:54 am

I would have liked to see a $1 trillion stimulus bill composed exclusively of tax cuts: income, payroll, Fed. Gasoline.
This compromises the anti-deficit principle in order to promote the anti-tax principle at a time when the economy actually does need more stimulus.

Ah yes, this would have been a great compromise.
Instead we got a stimulus that was only one-third tax cuts and tax credits.
And then later we got an extension of tax cuts that were due to expire.
Let's face it, the Democrats are just thugs who have prevented conservative ideas from having any impact on public policy.

Vehicle Driver January 14, 2011 at 10:37 am

There are no "conservatives" and "liberals". There are many faction that combine into electoral coalitions that are the Republicans and Democrats. The "Conservative" agenda itself is a compromise… say, between those who want smaller government, and those who want the government to regulate sexual morality and to fund a global military, despite the fact that those beliefs are a contradiction. The "liberal" agenda itself is a compromise… between people who want a centrally-planned micromanaged state, and people who want more cultural freedom, despite the fact that it is essentially a contradiction.

Pat January 14, 2011 at 10:55 am

Liberals are more likely to yell "Don't stand there, do something!" Conservatives are more likely to yell, "Don't do something, stand there!"

Liberals think that government should do more. You have to compromise to do that. Conservatives think the government should do less. If gridlock is possible, who do they compromise with?

Zephyrus January 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Tom, I'd take you up on that.

anon January 15, 2011 at 9:47 am

Modern Republican partisan politics, however, is much more about identity than policy.

Hahahahaha

Talk about “an astounding lack of self-awareness.”

Hahahahaha

DG Lesvic January 20, 2011 at 10:55 am
cabbage soup diet February 26, 2011 at 4:00 am

I was just searching the entire internet for exactly this kind of information. Thank to your post this journey has come to an end right now. You wrote the post in a very understandable way. So I like to say thanks and add your blog to my favorites right now. Enjoy the day.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: