PIPE* Workshop: Sarah Anderson, UCSB

Sarah Anderson is an Associate Professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Why Legislators Don’t Compromise and What to Do About It”

Legislative solutions to society’s pressing problems usually require compromise, but we find that around a quarter of state legislators and many elected city officials reject proposals that move policy in their preferred direction and make them better off. The legislators who reject compromise proposals tend to be those who perceive that their voters – especially their primary voters – are likely to punish them for compromising. This threat of punishment also affects the voting behavior of members of Congress.

We find that members of the U.S. House in the majority party were more likely to vote No on compromise proposals when a larger number of their constituents identified with the group in their primary elections explicitly pushing for legislators to reject compromise.

The results together show that officials’ perceptions of the electorate may drive them to oppose policies that are closer to their preferred alternative, exacerbating gridlock. Solutions that insulate legislators from the small groups of legislators who punish for compromise may allow legislators to more easily support beneficial compromise.