Liberal Compromise and Conservative Power

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.

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.


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