Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 01/14/2011

Are liberals more inclined toward compromise than conservatives?

By Ezra Klein


Do liberals value compromise more than conservatives? Maybe. This Gallup poll says they do. But I wouldn't take it too seriously. Snapshot polls -- polls that don't go back many years, and thus don't have data across different political situations -- are very limited. It's possible this survey is telling us something important about liberals and conservatives. But it's also possible this survey is just telling us about the political moment we're in.

Right now, liberals are largely united behind a president who has argued repeatedly and eloquently for compromise. The reason? If there's no compromise, liberals won't get anything done. Conservatives, conversely, are part of a political movement that has turned against compromise, and arguably for much the same reason: If there's no compromise, liberals won't get anything done.

If liberals were more interested in compromise than conservatives back in 2005, when President Bush was driving the agenda and compromise meant some sort of accommodation with his priorities, that would tell us something interesting. This poll, however, doesn't.

By Ezra Klein  | January 14, 2011; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Polls  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: There's no 'job-killing health-care law'
Next: Cooperating with co-ops



An additional argument that might support the idea of (American) liberals favoring more compromise is the idea that they are more "ambivalent," e.g. they have conflicting core values due, whereas American conservatives do not. This is an idea espoused by the political scientists Stanley Feldman and John Zaller (albeit in an early 1990s paper). The core idea is that liberals have conflicting value orientation in this country that leads them to be more ambivalent, to possess contrasting ideas, in a way that conservatives do not.

Posted by: y2josh_us | January 14, 2011 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Of course liberals view compromise favorably.

Every time a conservative compromises his principles is a loss of freedom, etc. Every such compromise is the slow creep of creeping socialism.

Posted by: msoja | January 14, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

In general, being reality-based and wanting institutions to work involves compromise. If you're willing to burn the whole place down when you don't get your way, compromise is unnecessary.

Posted by: paul314 | January 14, 2011 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Oh, yes! Let us liberals strike a Faustian bargain...a wonderful, one-sided cave-in compromise. That is why I now call myself a progressive. Did progressives compromise over slavery? Over women's vote? Over urban slums, dangerous factory conditions, and child labor? Over the Interstate Commerce Act (1887) and the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890)?

Well there you have it. Cave-in, compromise, and be an Obama liberal. I'll be the progressive.

Posted by: denim39 | January 14, 2011 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Is it important for politicians to compromise to get things done?

Get what things done?

Conservative Republicans didn't want health care reform, so they'd hardly be interested in compromising to get that done. Likewise, liberal Democrats didn't want to pass tax cuts for millionaires, or to legalize warrantless wiretapping, so they weren't interested on compromising on those points, either.

Posted by: ericma | January 14, 2011 10:50 AM | Report abuse

In general, being reality-based and wanting institutions to work involves compromise. If you're willing to burn the whole place down when you don't get your way, compromise is unnecessary.

Posted by: paul314 | January 14, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

This can be measured by counting congressional votes.

My perception is that Dems tend to cross the aisle more on key ideological bills.

Posted by: lauren2010 | January 14, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Conservatives, pretty much by definition, are white folks with security and privilege. They don't want change, they only care about protecting themselves. Liberals want things to be better for everyone.

Posted by: AZProgressive | January 14, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

--*Liberals want things to be better for everyone.*--

The road to hell...

Posted by: msoja | January 14, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

--*Did progressives compromise over slavery?*--

No, because "progressives" didn't really exist in this country until the late 19th or early 20th century.

Remember, before liberalism became a euphemism for marxism, socialism, and collectivism, it was rather more concerned with the sovereignty of the individual and the maximization of freedom, more akin to modern libertarianism than anything else.

To be accurate these days one needs to distinguish between modern liberalism and classic liberalism. Modern liberals are big on covering themselves in the lingo of others, because declaring themselves openly would be political suicide.

Posted by: msoja | January 14, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Politically, Conservatives don't need to compromise. Their postition is that government doesn't work. (A guy ran for Congress in IL-5 saying that he'd been in New Orleans when Katrina hit. The government had fouled up, so vote Republican gainst government. He didn't mention which administration had fouled up.) So they're happy when government freezes up.
Liberals, on the other hand, want government to do something, and they see that this means compromise.

Posted by: fpfrankpalmer | January 14, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

You make a good point as usual. But I think even on average Republicans are less in favor of compromise. Usually, all other things equal, the more extreme and black and white one is, the less likely one is to be willing to compromise.

Only about 25% of Americans identify themselves as Republicans (This jumps around, but it's usually in the neighborhood of 25%).

This 25% includes the most hard core, Tea Party, Fox watching, Rush listening, Koch brother's billionaire propaganda machine whipped up 12.5%.

So half of the people who call themselves Republicans are very extreme and black and white – and this half votes far more often than the other half – especially, especially in primaries – the more extreme and passionate you are the more likely you are to take action, including making the effort to vote, or go to a caucus (also retired seniors have, obviously, more time to vote, and have had decades to get registered).

On the Democrat side, you have some extremists, but not anywhere near 50%, and they certainly don't control the party like the extremists in the Republican Party do. In fact, I can only think of one real extremist on the left who holds any major elected national office, Ku-Ku Kucinich in the House of Representatives, and he has basically zero influence in the party, aside from his one vote in congress.

So I would think even on average Republicans are less in favor of compromise.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | January 14, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Liberalism is itself a compromise, a centrist position between the left and the right. Liberalism combines the capitalism of the right with the egalitarian impulse of the left, creating a most delightful synthesis.

Liberalism is not so much an ideology as an expression of basic human decency. So yes, liberals are inherently more inclined to compromise than either the left or the right.

Posted by: eb53 | January 14, 2011 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company