Partisanship, Special Interest Groups, and Why Voters Accept 2nd Rate Legislation


Analysis Online, published an article How Leaders Make Policy Decisions. In an ongoing study Professor Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, quantifies why policy makers lack the ability to “ make wise tradeoffs, or to give up small losses for much larger gain.” as well as the voters’ willingness to accept their poor decision making processes.

This is particularly interesting due to the climate of this election. Numerous special interest groups, media outlets, and political parties have ambitions that they are promoting. Messages will be distorted and lacking significant facts in order to shift the judgment of the voting public. Not to mention the sweeping atmosphere of “change” both sides in this election are promoting.

Bazerman offers two reasons for this irrational judgment process: "proliferation of special interest groups" and a host of “judgment biases.” He sees these two factors as the most important for guiding constituents to accept middle of the road policies that inevitably do more harm than good for the country.
“The problem comes when actions designed to strengthen the political power of the special interest are misinterpreted as providing greater benefits to individuals who identify with the group, when the reality is to the contrary, Bazerman explains.”
Special interest groups and self-seeking individuals have promoted many worthless causes, this goes for both sides of the aisle. In their current strategies, most use facts are considerably generalized or try to generate fear to reinforce their preferred outcome. A good example is the current economic crisis, yes had to slip this in. Bother parties have adopted this mentality, implying the rival group was the causality of the situation. This is simply not true, evidence is supporting that a host of bad decisions, made by both parties, throughout a fifteen-year period led to it.

With judgment biased, he lays out four reasons that people will tolerate fundamentally flawed policies.
  • The Harm of Omission – People (including policy makers) are more fearful of the harms that could result from action than the harms of inaction even when the harms of inaction are greater.
  • Status Quo Bias – Connected to the bias of omission is the bias exhibited by many people of preferring the status quo. “People are more likely to be concerned about the risk of change than about the risk of failing to change, and will be motivated to preserve current systems and beliefs,” notes Bazerman.
  • The Fixed Pie Pitfall – Hefty, black-and-white generalizations about situations and policy decisions dominate this judgment bias, which is strongly exhibited in negotiations and partisan fervor, notes Bazerman. This bias is built on the assumption (when opposing sides battle) that what is good for one side must necessarily be bad for the other side.
  • The Winner’s Circle Curse– This one is highlighted by the high-dollar bidding for sports franchises and stadium improvements that has become trademark with modern day sports. Bazerman says taxpayers are ill-served by this type of competition because the winner more often than not is the party that has most overestimated the benefits of winning.

Again, with the economic crisis, partisan biased is driving poor decision making. So far we have been offered nothing but bail-outs and stimulus packages. The psychological aspects of this are particularly important. Neither side wishes to be perceived as the cause of the problem, but both want to be recognized as the one with the solution. This promotes each party to rush, trying to beat the other, which leads to poor solutions that become policy. Thereby exacerbating an already bad situation. They are more concerned with the political outcome than the well being of our nation. Partisan minded voters are more than gladly to back up these decisions, regardless of their value or product.

Voters have a responsibility to see beyond party motivation and tactics. Fundamentally understanding the issues is imperative and it's quite alright to understand those issues based on personal political philosophy. But, what is as equally important is to understand the motivations of the people supporting those issues. Reshaping the way we make policy is just as important as reshaping the policies themselves. If we do not, we are dooming this country and its population to years of flawed legislation supporting the self-serving needs of individual groups, which will only continue fracturing our society.


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