An excellent opinion piece on the Reuters website by Bill Bishop concentrates on the question why compromise is so difficult.
The odds are that the extremely close national election wasn’t close at all in the place where you live.
And that’s a problem.
For the past four decades, Americans have been self-segregating into communities where they are increasingly likely to vote with their neighbors in overwhelming majorities. In 1976, only a quarter of voters lived in a county where either Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford won by 20 points or more. By 2008, 46.7 percent of voters lived in one of these landslide counties.
This year, the national margins narrowed still further. But more than half of all voters (52 percent) lived in a county where either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney won by 20 percentage points or more.
What’s true in counties is also true in states. In 1976, there were 20 states where either Ford or Carter won by five points or less. In 2008, there were seven.
This year, only four.
Why is this so? In one of the great ironies of all time, the harder we strive for “diversity,” the more segregated we become. Part of the reason is housing values, which tend to put people of similar income levels together in one community. And perhaps more than any other indicator, income level determines party affiliation.
But why does this clustering of like minded voters make compromise so difficult?
The problem with this increasing self-segregation is that there are now few places where voters (or their representatives) must fully contend with those from the other party. There is more danger (both socially and politically) in disappointing like-minded neighbors than in compromising with those who live elsewhere. Compromise isn’t rewarded in like-minded communities.
Compromisers are suspect members of the tribe.
And politics has much more to do with tribe than policy. Columbia University political scientist Donald P. Green says that people choose their political party the same way they choose their friends. They aren’t picking among policies. They are joining a social group — they are finding the people they would like their sons or daughters to marry.
This has changed the actual purpose of politics “from settling differences to giving people a chance to assert individual distinction and the righteousness of their group.”
Evil, not wrong.
In the face of this self-segregation, you would think it difficult to change anyone’s mind on election day. You would be right:
The Democrats hired the smartest of the sharp pencil boys in psychological and social media research to cajole, lure, manipulate and massage the vote. They were the best – and exactly 11 counties that voted Republican in 2008 switched allegiance and voted Democratic in November.
Over the last 100 years of presidential elections, on average, 24 percent of counties switch allegiance from the vote in the previous election, according to statistician Robert Cushing. This year, it was 6.7 percent, a 100-year low.
That’s the change that a smidgen more than $2 billion will buy you in today’s America.
In essence, it appears that millions of voters on both sides exist in their own echo chambers where the information loop is closed and outside influences — new ideas, a different way of looking at the world — are not only suspect but actively discouraged. It is disquieting to think that Republicans, at the moment, find themselves outnumbered in this universe with little chance of changing hearts and minds in order to win a national election.
Elections are only part of the equation. The other part is governing. Where it used to be thought that good governance demanded compromise with the other side, it now appears that, as Bishop writes, “[c]ompromise isn’t rewarded in like-minded communities.” In short, there is no incentive for politicians who wish to be re-elected to compromise. Only when faced with utter ruin — the debt ceiling, the fiscal cliff, sequestration — is there a hasty, reluctant effort at forging agreement. And in what might be viewed as black comedy, both sides then proceed to accuse their leaders of caving in to the enemy — of being taken in, fooled, outmaneuvered, and defeated.
For RINO’s like myself who believe the only way our country can be governed is through compromise, it is unsettling to think that the days when Americans could sit down and hash out an agreement for the good of all are behind us. This new paradigm promises nothing but division. In a time of crisis when unity of purpose is a necessity in order to face the threats of debt and deficits at home and terrorism abroad, we are paralyzed by our own parochialism and tribal loyalty.
It’s hard to see how this will lead to a happy and prosperous future.