11 July 2011

American Politics in a Single Graph

H/T: Lowy Interpreter


  1. I suspect that these results are entirely dependent upon the identity of the party in power.

  2. Great graph, Roger.
    Just looking from outside the US:
    Apparently for Democrats politics is just politics, i.e. "the art of the possible" as per one classical definition, whereas for Republicans it is more like "the continuation of religion by other means", in a slight paraphrase of another classical definition.

  3. Roger - Fascinating. Any idea how this varies over time?

  4. That has to be one of the most depressing graphs I've seen in a while.

    In the UK we get some information about politics in the US, and I was aware that there were polarisation issues, with the republicans apparently drifting toward a more ideological stance.

    Perhaps if they'd changed the question to "Sticks to their principles even if it makes no sense at all" there would have been a more rational response...

  5. The problem is that the principles most often adhered to are all about reelection.

  6. #4 Steve Crook:

    Your description could just as easily go the other way. For example, see how many Democrats are absolutely opposed to any changes in Social Security or Medicare, even though neither program can possibly continue as is.

    I'd also bring up the "Progressive" claim of being all for pragmatic solutions and experiments in government. "Getting stuff done" fits nicely into such principles, so I suspect there's less difference between the two than this data shows.

    Contrariwise, Republicans generally (and here I'm talking people, not politicians!) prefer that the government do less. So "getting stuff done," "the art of the possible," is often the antithesis of Republican principles.

    Certainly this Democrat President is the most ideological since at least Reagan.

  7. The graph scetches a false dichotomy.

    I prefer politicians who stick to their principles on major points, but seek compromises on the minor points.

    Luckily, people do not agree on what the major points are :), enabling politicians to make deals where both side score their major points.

  8. The question was loaded. The assumption that government can get things done is a religious tenet of the Democratic party. ;-)

  9. #4 Steve Crook:

    Rather than being depressed, you should be elated. You have been captive in your socialist cage so long you can't even imagine the moral and genetic benefits of being a "free range chicken" (aka as a true republican).

  10. #6 Matt:

    True, but the question didn't address policy specifics. I'm just as worried by the number of democrats that thought compromise was a bad thing under any circumstances.

    I was looking at the question, and wondering how many people realised what "no matter what" actually meant...

    Inflexibility is frequently a cause of trouble. Sure there are always times when someone who sticks to their guns despite (almost) overwhelming opposition actually turns out to be right. But how often does that really happen???

  11. Compromise in Democratspeak means acquiescence by the Republicans to whatever the Democrats propose. They only truly negotiate with themselves.

  12. #10 Steve Crook:

    I suppose it also depends on how you interpret "principles." Here are a couple for which it would seem reasonable for someone professing not to compromise on:

    "No wars unless we're directly attacked."
    "Abortion is murder."

    There are fewer people who hold principles such as, "No tax increase for anything ever," or "Never ever reduce any spending item," which does not mean they don't exist.

    I'm sure we could nitpick other areas, but in general, this attitude is possibly a signal that the voters want to know what they're voting for. But plenty of people are willing to hold their nose and vote for the lesser of two evils.

    I'd probably argue that flexibility is more of a cause of trouble when it comes to politicians, because that's when the knuckleheads are more likely to do stupid things like forbidding us from "wasting our money" on certain types of light bulbs.

  13. Matt #12
    I think it's easy to come up with some principles like those you have stated, much harder to justify adopting them, because their inflexibility makes them untenable in reasoned argument. Never and always are not useful words in this regard.

    "No wars unless we're directly attacked."
    That would, I assume, include the British declaring war on Germany in 1939? What if China/Russia (your choice) invade Canada but do nothing to attack the US?

    Or, another possible scenario, what if the Cuban missile crisis had not been resolved by the blockade? What if the USSR kept the missiles there and expanded their military presence, but didn't directly attack the US?

    It's a bit like the death penalty. There are arguments for executing *some* murderers, but I'm not sure that there are arguments for executing all murderers.

    Bob #9
    You make assumptions about my politics and are wrong :-) I'm not a socialist by any means. I believe in free choice and the smallest possible state compatible with democracy, good order, equality of opportunity and prosperity.

  14. #13 Steve:

    It will be more or less difficult by proposed principle by individual. But that doesn't mean that many people don't hold them, or others like them. And there are plenty who claim to believe in either of those two that I mentioned, so it's certainly easy enough for some to justify.

    But that's not really the point here. We could also argue that the poll is a false dichotomy, and many of those in either column would prefer some mix based on their principles and how strongly they hold them.

    So maybe the explanation "in a single graph" is really that there is no simple explanation, and
    all generalizations are wrong. :-)

  15. So does this mean that today's Democrats would not have fought the Civil War, and would have accepted a deal that left slavery in place?

    The fact that three people posted this graph without comment is embarrassing. I can only guess that each assumed that all right thinking people share their prejudices. I expect more from you, Roger.

  16. #15 Mark B.:

    Good point on the lack of comment. I followed the links to yougov, and not surprisingly, this seems to be in the context of the debt ceiling debate, which rather changes the discussion, I think.

    Accordingly, I'd say that the Republicans polled think that doing something like raising taxes would be worse than an immediate budget balancing by dint of no more borrowed money. Tough love, or something like that.

    The reduced government footprint is one of their principles to begin with, so that would be a victory of sorts by default (hah!).

    For the Democrats, however, that would probably be generally seen as catastrophic, since they'd prefer to leave spending at higher levels.

  17. -16-Matt

    Yes, thanks for this, I thought the context would be obvious, but the Rohrshach nature is interesting as well ;-)

  18. You can actually look up the full poll, including crosstabs, at the YouGov site.

    I'd submit that, as it pertains to the debt limit, the rest of the poll is even more cause for concern. Most Republicans are opposed to raising the debt limit, period, and will stomach it only with a large package of cuts attached. That *is* a compromise on their part. Pushing Boehner still further to accept tax hikes is asking him to commit political suicide. He won't.

    It's easy to be snotty about how one's own side is flexible, when a major concession by the other side is essentially already built in.

  19. I agree the the comment above stating that this is a false dichotomy. There are matters of principle where one believes they cannot compromise. There are other cases where different groups of people have conflicting interests and compromise in order to balance the competing interests is the best choice. In other cases, compromise may simply allow something to get done even if it isn't the greatest choice. So my preferenc, would be for politicians with the good sense to know when to compromise and when to stand their ground.

  20. To test how committed people are to principle vs. compromise suggest the following; let's simultaneously ban assault rifles and partial birth abortion. Either both or nothing. What do you think would happen...

  21. To follow-up on Dewitt's point, recent history has seen Republican's "compromise" in ways that have just led to bigger government, more spending, and more taxes.

    To put it in terms of simple math, if D's start at "increase spending by x", and R's start at "no spending increases at all", and the "compromise" is "increase spending by 1/2 x", government, spending, and taxes grow and grow and grow...

    I think the poll reflects that a lot of Republicans are sick and tired of these sorts of "compromises".

  22. Hmmm.... Can anyone say specifically what the democrats are offering to cut in any program, if they are so flexible?
    By the way, we were told Social Security is a Trust.
    If a group of trust beneficiaries in the private sector found out that the insolvency of the bank housing the trust meant they might not get their checks, or that their assets were going to be used to help the bank's capital or cashflow, the beneficiaries would be going to court, suing trustees, and very likely seeking criminal action against those who had compromised the trust.
    We have drifted very far from the free and ethical people we need to be. That our social security is being held over us as a threat over a dispute on spending is an obscene symptom of a very deep problem.

  23. I'll bet you these numbers would change if you phrased this in terms of rolling back Government overreach like TSA screening, ATF running guns to Mexican Drug Lords, and IRS audits of (selective) political contributions.

    See, it's fun to play "Make up the poll question to get the answer you want"!

  24. Loaded lasers locked, yes, yet I may not devise in -=ANONYMOUS=- disguise my secret weapon, yet. I was born in St. Paul, armpit of the creepy Midwest.


    And Vickson and Prancer.

    They say that money don't buy you happiness.
    But it will pay for the search.
    But what you ultimately find out is that.
    Ain't none of us really free.

    Shut the chuck up!


    Our secret weapon is you.

    Tell stories, not facts.

    Backwater bayou boyz.


  25. John M - 21,

    It's worse than that. The usual deal is that the Democrats want to raise taxes and increase spending while the Republicans want the opposite. The compromise position the Democrats offer is to raise taxes a little less and cut some spending (translating from Democratspeak: reduce the rate of increase of spending). Except that in reality, every time the Republicans have accepted the compromise, taxes have gone up with no cuts in spending, other than possibly Defense spending.

    Frontiers - 22,

    As usual, the proposal from the Democrats is for massive cuts in the Defense budget and not much anywhere else. They're even claiming a cut in interest expense caused by their proposed increase in taxes. It's hard to tell, though, as there has been no actual Democratic budget proposal on paper for the last two years.

  26. @DavidCharlton

    You won't even be able to get the two sides to agree to use the terms 'assault rifles' and 'partial birth abortion'. :-)

  27. David,
    I own one, and would agree to banning them if PBA was also and equally banned.

    The disturbing thing about the paradigm we are trapped in is that it is unsustainable.
    We could always go from spending less to spending more. We do not seem to be able to go from spending more to spending even a little less in government. We can sustain lower spending indefinitely. As Europe demonstrates rather 'dynamically', one cannot sustain spending increases forever.
    Yet we have one House and the Oval office held by people who are willing to bring down the entire edifice if they do not get their way,and who blame those who warned them about the problems of over spending for the problem.
    I think this would meet the definition of dysfunction rather well.

  28. I like 'do nothing' politicians...they are easier on the wallet...where was that option in the poll?

  29. Way too vague to be meaningful in my opinion. If we reveal such a big discrepancy between both groups in the way of viewing the world in one aspect, then on what grounds do we assume that both groups share the same exact definition of the term "principles"? Or "getting things done" (what things)?

  30. Being flexible and open to tactical compromises is not a virtue in its own right. Totalitarian communists used to be very flexible if there was a need, sometimes changing sides and methods overnight. I'm not comparing Democrats (or anyone else for that matter) to communists, I'm just saying that abstracted from what kind of goals you're actually willing to achieve - stripped from the context - flexibility doesn't mean anything in moral terms. The very nature of your goals can affect what "compromise" means. If your goal is to get pregnant, sex with contraception is a compromise, but it's not the same type of compromise as sex without contraception where you goal is NOT to get pregnant.