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Why has Political Compromise Become so Difficult?

  • brendagiven
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There is growing resistance to democratic compromise in America, anchored in an “uncompromising mindset” driven by increasing polarization, minority over majority rule, permanent campaigning and the immense influence of money in politics.

An “uncompromising mindset” is a cluster of attitudes and arguments that encourage standing on principle and mistrusting opponents. Although conducive to campaigning, the mindset doesn’t work for governing. Resistance to compromise favors the status quo – little political change, and certainly major political change, is not possible without compromise.

Increasing polarization in Congress and the electorate are creating more resistance to compromise.

Division in Congress is the highest since Reconstruction:

  • Parties are more ideologically consistent. There’s more conformity to the latest party doctrine and less internal disagreement.
  • Centrist politicians are disappearing. There are very few moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats.
  • Greater distance between party medians. In 1982, 344 House members were between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat; by 2013, there were 4. Fifty-eight Senators occupied this space in 1982; there were none in 2013.

The electorate has also become more ideologically divided over the last 20 years:

  • American’s at the party extremes double.
  • Little ideological overlap between parties.
  • The rancorous party extremes are the most active in politics – they vote, donate to campaigns and become activists.
  • The politically engaged see compromise as their side getting more of what they want.
  • Contempt for the opposing party is rising. Nearly 1/3 of each party view the other party as a threat to the Nation.
  • Although the majority of American’s are less polarized and ideological, the center is a distant, disengaged political outsider.

Our politics is increasingly enabling minority over majority rule, according to NPR.

  • Electoral vote differs from popular vote – 3/44 times 1824-1996, 2/5 times 2000-2016.
  • Gerrymandering – Republicans won 49% of 2016 popular vote, but 55% of House seats.
  • Senate State Protections – 2016 Democratic minority represented 55% of the population, given urban support. Will this work in 2040 when 70% of Americans are expected to be represented by 30 Senators and the other 30% by 70?

These problems are worsened by the destructive pattern described in US News, in which the majority party (often elected by a minority) insists on policies that are rejected entirely by the minority party… so much for the majority rule with minority protections sought by the Founders.

The result is a vicious cycle of gridlock, public frustration and escalating polarization. Candidates campaign on not compromising, which they can’t deliver. Voters then feel cheated when promises are broken and search for an even more uncompromising candidate, repeating the cycle.

This cycle has become constant as a result of the incursion of campaigning into governing, aka, the “permanent campaign”, which encourages political attitudes and arguments that make compromise next to impossible. Campaign-like tactics used in governing, such as social media rants and rallies, create a mind-numbing political environment, amped up by politicized media, that further alienates moderate voters and often distracts activists from the real issues.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, is the ability of big money to buy candidates.

Campaigning is big business that requires millions of dollars. The cost to run for Congress has increased 300% since 1986. Presidential campaign spending is up by a factor of 60 from 1960 to 2012. Politicians need large donors and corporate funding to keep their jobs.

And corporate and large donor funding buys influence that is much more powerful than the will of the people. Influence that does not favor compromise. Influence that favors the status quo over common sense legislation most Americans want.

Unfortunately, Americans will have to fight for political compromise. Moderates need to become the activists, donors and voters for candidates who will make government work…for everyone. Country over party. You are the change!

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Author: brendagiven

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