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Compromise not a dirty word, except maybe among Repubs

The public has mixed feelings about candidates who are willing to compromise, but Republicans like compromise less than Dems or independents.

As part of its recent "Congressional Connection" poll, the Pew Research Center asked respondents whether they were more likely or less to vote for a candidates who was willing to compromise with those with whom he or she disagreed.

Responses were very mixed, but overall a solid plurality of respondents (42 percent) said they would be more likely for a candidate whom they felt was capable of compromising compared with 22 percent who said they would be less likely to vote for a compromiser (the balance said it would make no difference or they didn't know).

But the partisan breakdown was interesting. Among Democrats and Independents a willingness to compromise was seen as a more positive quality (49-19 percent among Dems; 44-15 among independents). But Republicans, by 35 to 40 percent, were, on balance less likely to support a candidate whom they perceived as willing to compromise.

(Surely, there's something a little silly about asking people whether they like compromise without knowing what the compromise is about and what the details of the compromise are, but as a general mesure of public mood in angry times, I found the result interesting.)

If you look at the partisan breakdowns of a couple of related questions in the poll, you'll find that Republicans were also significantly less willing than Dems or Independents to vote for an incumbent and considerably more willing to vote into Congress a candidate who has never held public office before.

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Comments (8)

The broader point is that this is what we mean by "compromise". Democrats want to spend a lot on improving America's infrastructure. Republicans want to grant a lot of tax breaks. Democrats put together a bill that combines infrastructure spending with tax breaks. Every single Republican votes against it. Next time, the game-theory-rational move for Democrats is to pass a bill containing only infrastructure spending and no tax breaks, and let Republicans actually vote for the bill if they want tax breaks so badly. You can read James Fallows for more on this; the conversation goes like:

Republican: I want this provision in the bill.
Democrat: So if I put this provision in the bill, you'll vote for it?
Republican: You know I can't vote for this bill.
Democrat: So why should I put your provision in the bill?

I think its the difference between idealism and pragmatism, with those willing to compromise falling more on the pragmatic side of the spectrum, and those not, tending towards positions based "on the way things should be." Which is kind of funny, considering the way that liberals are routinely depicted as overly idealistic and conservatives depicted as hard headed realists. In reality, conservatives are the idealists, preferring to let things fall apart if it means preserving their ideological purity, I think it is p[art of a general sensibility of hyper-vigilance, and that envisions the world as one false move away from catastrophe.

But this example, one that is routinely set forth in political negotiations in which conservatives make no compromise, is a poor one. Are we to tell our children that this will make them successful in a business venture? What organization tolerates people for whom it is always my way or the highway?

I think it would be interesting to see the gender breakdowns on this matter. Also not that it matters: are there polls measuring knowledge of issues where there is a prior screening by asking a few basic questions of the interviewee to know if they even have some advanced reasoning?

"Compromise" means different things to different people, depending on whether they are in control or not.

If they are in the majority at the time, "compromise" often means "do it my way."

If they are in the minority at the time, "compromise" often means "make room for my basic values" or at least "don't attack my basic values."

Each side, of course, accuses the other of refusing to "compromise."

What "compromise" SHOULD mean, though, is "let's find a way to get to our mutual goals here without crushing the core values of either side."

It has been done, and can be done again. If this understanding of "compromise" were to return, I think 100% would be in favor of it.

But when core values are so bitterly separate as they are at the moment, however, it seems to me most unlikely that "compromise" will be other than an accusation in political circles.

I know I'm kind of a broken record on this point, but even Everett Dirksen finally voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act. Some of my ancestors are spinning in their graves over me praising Everett Dirksen, but where are the heroes (compromisers for the greater good) of yesteryear? I'm also still reminded that John Dean (he of Watergate fame as White House Counsel) recently wrote that Republicans are better at getting elected but Democrats are better at governing, something about compromise in that point.

How exactly would one govern in a democracy without compromise? Even if one part or the other is in a filibuster proof majority there are varying points of view within the party, and certainly within the electorate.

Compromise is what makes democracy "go". The purpose of our elected representatives is not to disagree vigorously but to find a way past that and actually accomplish the tasks at hand.

Both parties have had some real heroes in the art of negotiation and compromise. Unfortunately I can't think of one in office today.

It's nice have polls once and a while but really this is pretty obvious. The Republican party has become a proud champion of intolerance, does anyone dispute that? Obviously people who despise tolerance or any kind of diversity are not going to be psychologically inclined to compromise.

John's comment is illustrative in this regard. He claims that the majority imposes it's will and calls it compromise. This is of course a perverse definition of compromise, but it reveals the basic agenda of the contemporary Republican party. Since the early 70s the Republican agenda is about winning at any cost simply to get into power. Karl Rove is the epitome of that mindset. Now of course liberals seek power as well, but the meaning of power is different. For liberals power is about enacting public policy that expands liberty- hence the civil rights movement, women's rights, gay/lesbian rights, etc. For Republicans power is about making people behave according to your will. Republicans assume that winning elections gives them the right to use power to bend people to their will. Look at the difference between Obama and Pawlenty. One guys actually wins a clear majority, and spends a year trying to get Republicans to sign onto a health care plan. The other wins elections without majority and spend the next 8 years cramming his no new tax pledge down everyone's throat even if he has to violate the constitution to do it. And look at what happened to the Republicans that voted for an veto over ride. It's not about compromise, it's about intolerance.

"John's comment is illustrative in this regard. He claims that the majority imposes it's will and calls it compromise."

>Nope -- What I said was that the majority imposes its will and accuses the OTHER side of being unwilling to compromise. Read it again, Paul.

"For Republicans power is about making people behave according to your will. Republicans assume that winning elections gives them the right to use power to bend people to their will.

I love this one: Are you telling the folks who oppose the health care plan its the repubs who did it? Planet earth calling!