Moral conviction stymies political compromise

Post developed by Katie Brown and Timothy Ryan

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Partisanship gets in the way of political progress. Hillary Clinton made this common claim last week. The lack of compromise inherent to partisanship is worth investigating. What causes such non-cooperation?

Timothy Ryan, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Michigan’s Department of Political Science and affiliate of the Center for Political Studies (CPS), seeks to answer this question. In a paper presented at the 2013 meeting of the American Political Science Association – “No Compromise: Political Consequences of Moralized Attitudes” – Ryan ran four studies to understand non-cooperation.

Ryan’s overarching hypothesis boils non-compromise down to morals: a moral mindset orients citizens to oppose political compromises and punish compromising politicians. There are all kinds of issues for which some citizens seem resistant to compromises: tax reform, same-sex marriage, collective bargaining, etc. But who is resistant? Ryan shows that part of the answer has to do with who sees these issues through a moral lens.

Ryan tests moral conviction’s effect on compromise. Data come from the American National Elections Studies (ANES), as well as surveys of undergraduates, participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and citizens found via GfK Research (his work was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF)). Ryan also considers several types of compromises: hypothetical, actual, positions citizens want their elected officials to adopt, and a willingness to accept a monetary reward only if a disliked group (the Tea Party or the Progressive Change Campaign Committee) also receives a donation.

Participants with moral conviction around an issue are less likely to compromise. Hypothetical and real world compromises were hindered. Compromising politicians received less support. Personal gain was sacrificed to avoid the gain of the Tea Party (if a political adversary). As Ryan concludes, “Different attitude characteristics relate to compromise in different ways, with moral conviction being a particularly potent obstacle to compromise.”

In the fall, Ryan will continue his work on morality when he joins the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as Assistant Professor of Political Science.

 

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