We call this tendency partisan compromise bias, and it applies to both parties. For a Democrat, the goal of an environmental policy that reduces carbon emissions, for example, is to preserve the environment, and a corresponding loss of jobs in coal mines is an unfortunate side effect. But a Republican, according to our research, could look at that same policy and see a plot to eradicate jobs in the fossil fuel industry. Meanwhile, a Democrat might surmise that a Republican push to lower corporate tax rates is more about helping the rich and harming the poor than fueling economic growth.
Of course, skepticism as to the motives is sometimes justified. But, often it is misguided, and the deeper it is, the harder it is to get anything through the policy-making process. Unless politicians find a way to lessen the effects of partisan compromise bias, we’re likely to continue to see dead ends on important political issues.
We documented partisan compromise bias in five studies using online samples from a total of 1,236 participants, a mix of Republicans and Democrats. For example, in one of our studies, participants were randomly assigned to visualize a set of political compromises, some proposed by Republicans and others by Democrats. The policies focused on taxes, environmental regulations, gun control and voting rights. Participants then rated how intentionally they perceived the negative side effects of each policy. The more participants identified with the Republican Party, the more intentionally they perceived the side effects of policies proposed by Democrats, and the more participants identified with the Democratic Party, the more intentionally they perceived the side effects of policies proposed by Republicans to be. .
In summary, our studies have shown that the negative side effects associated with different political compromises are not interpreted by opponents at all as side effects, but as policy goals.
To date, the political science literature has shown that political polarization leads supporters not only to hate each other, but to increasingly view the other side as a threat to the country. Our identification of partisan arbitrage bias reveals a psychological trend that could help explain this perception of threat. After all, how can you get along with someone you perceive to be intentionally trying to hurt?
The good news is that by identifying the bias of partisan compromise, our research points to a way forward: policymakers who pay more attention to this bias may be better equipped to achieve a compromise. This means that instead of focusing only on the primary objective of a policy, they must clearly communicate to the public what is intentional and what is an unfortunate side effect of that objective.
Fortunately, our studies also suggest that this may be achievable. Partisan compromise bias occurs not because people don’t understand a given policy, but because they don’t trust the decision-makers who push that policy forward. We have found that the level of trust a person has in a decision maker proposing a policy is a crucial factor in partisan compromise bias. And when we were able to increase people’s confidence in the decision maker in our studies, we saw the partisan compromise bias decrease dramatically.
Existing research suggests that there are many ways for politicians to gain the trust of others, but one of the most powerful is also the simplest: making sure people feel their voices are heard and heard before they are heard. ‘a policy is advertised, including those who are inclined to like and hate A font. When we told our study participants that a decision-maker spoke to stakeholders from all sides of the political spectrum before coming forward with a proposal, the partisan compromise bias faded.
In practice, these results suggest that announcing a big political goal, followed by press tours and campaigns to tout its benefits, is unlikely to help build confidence. What happens before the policy is announced is crucial to gaining broad support for the policy. Politicians must make it clear that they are speaking and listening to those who are likely to be affected by the side effects of a policy. In the context of climate policy, a politician may visit coal miners in West Virginia or oil and gas workers in Texas while formulating a plan to reduce emissions, for example example. The more the politician can advertise these efforts – through several types of media and across the ideological spectrum – the better.
Giving people a voice in the process does not mean that they will change their minds about the value of the policy. But it increases the chances that they will see politics as a sincere attempt to solve problems rather than a form of hidden malice. This, in turn, can help lower the temperature and defuse the polarization cycle. The same lesson holds for those of us who are not decision makers but ordinary citizens who wish to have better conversations about politics. If you think you know the real intentions of the other party, think again. What you think of as maliciousness could be an unintended side effect. And if you want someone to give you the benefit of the doubt, try to make them feel heard before they make you heard.