In this episode of Capitol Insider, Dr. Michael Crespin of the University of Oklahoma joins KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley to discuss new research on why some legislators refuse to compromise.
The research, led by Dr. Sarah Anderson at the University of California, shows how a subset of the electorate can obscure the reality that most voters actually favor compromise. Crespin relates these findings to Oklahoma and how mounting public pressure forced legislators to depart from ideology in 2018.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and elections. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. And our guest is Michael Crespin, director and curator of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma. Michael, welcome.
Michael Crespin: Thanks for having me.
Pryor: Michael, you just returned from the American Political Science Association convention. What are political scientists talking about?
Crespin: Well, there's a lot of talk about the president. There's a lot of talk about the midterm elections. We're trying to make predictions about who's going to win, who's going to get the majority. There's a lot that's going on at that conference.
Shawn Ashley: One of the things that took place with that conference was you moderated a panel that discussed a paper entitled, "Rare, but Real: Voter Punishment and Legislators Refusal to Compromise." What does that research say about legislators’ views on voters and compromise?
Crespin: So, first I should say this paper is by Sarah Anderson, Dan Butler and Laura Harbridge-Young, who are political science colleagues throughout the country. So the big picture they want to get from their research is, how do we understand compromise and legislatures? Why don't members compromise and why do others do compromise? And then they're also interested in, how will voters respond to compromise?
Pryor: What did they find?
Crespin: They find that some legislatures will reject compromise if they fear punishment. They find that primary voters might punish people for compromising. It's a small subset of primary voters, but they're going to punish their representative for compromise. And when they say punish they mean, maybe less likely to vote, lower ratings in terms of how favorable you rate your particular member, or just sort of think about them maybe in worse terms. But, again, this is a small subset of voters, but some elected officials are very sensitive to, sort of, the negative side of punishment, as opposed to the reward side for compromising.
Pryor: These results it appears are consistent with our own Oklahoma Engaged polling that found that a majority of voters in Oklahoma want lawmakers to solve problems. They are turned off by partisanship, and they want legislators to work for the good of the people.
Crespin: I think the research supports that, right? So, if you read it carefully, most voters want compromise, and they're willing to reward. And it's just this small subset that's going to punish. But the question is, who are the representatives paying attention to? Are they paying attention to the punishment sides or have negative response to what they're doing? Or the positive side? Most representatives are risk averse. You know, they don't want to be punished. Most representatives, too, are very consistent. So, I interned in a congressional office, and, you know, if an issue came up the member might say, how do we vote on this the last time? Did we get in trouble for it? And if the answer is no, you know, they try to be consistent with what they're doing.
Ashley: The research focused on California and Illinois, but Oklahoma sort of went through an experiment of its own recently. We had 11 Republican legislators who voted against a compromise lose either their primary election or their primary runoff election. Is that consistent with the research? Or is Oklahoma some sort of outlier in this regard?
Crespin: I don't think we’re necessarily an outlier. I think it depends a little bit on the issue. You know, in Oklahoma the education issue came up a couple of years in a row, right? Where, for a while the Democrats weren't compromising, and some of the Republicans, too. And it took a couple of tries for the bill to pass, for the issue to become, I wouldn't say important enough, but the issue to come to the forefront... Enough people really paying attention to it. I think you did see, though, you saw lots of compromise on both sides. So the Democrats compromised. They voted to raise taxes on cigarettes, raise taxes on gas at the pump, and these are regressive taxes that Democrats are traditionally against. We saw a number of Republicans compromise by actually voting to raise taxes. So I think, in this case, I think we saw punishment for people who were not willing to compromise because the issue was so important.
Pryor: Michael, if a mostly silent majority of voters want compromise, what does that suggest for the upcoming elections?
Crespin: Well, I think the upcoming elections, people have been a lot less silent, right? So in Oklahoma we've seen walkouts. Turnout is generally low in primaries, but it was up in this primary and part of that was a state question. But I think people are much more active. The switchboards at the U.S. Capitol are, you know, have been lighting up over all sorts of issues. And so perhaps representatives will start to listen, oh, these people really want action on this. You know, if people are vocal enough about compromise you know then we might get more compromise.
Pryor: Michael Crespin, director and curator of the Carl Albert Center, thank you.
Crespin: Thanks for having me.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or or contact us on Twitter: @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.
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