Are politicians willing to collaborate?

Turkey's ruling AK Party lawmaker Muhittin Aksak and main opposition Republican People's Party lawmaker Mahmut Tanal scuffle during a debate at the parliament in AnkaraNormally when I write about things like collaboration and innovation on this blog, I do so from an organizational perspective.  With the UK election coming to a conclusion however, it’s providing an opportunity to see whether these same things apply to politics.

I’ve written, for instance, about a study that highlighted how few politicians are willing to underpin their beliefs with tangible data from experimentation.  Instead, they would rather trust either their gut instinct or the opinions of think tanks.

Given the importance of experiments for innovation, it’s a slightly sad state of affairs, although considering the rapacious nature of the British press whenever mistakes are made, it’s perhaps not too surprising.

The importance of working together

What about collaboration?  This has been an election like no other in the sense that it seems a coalition will be an inevitability.  The build up to polling day has therefore been awash with talk of potential alliances.

On the surface this may seem a positive thing, but most of the alliances have been forming at either end of the political spectrum.  Few have set out to bridge any gap between right or left.

If we need evidence as to why this matters we only have to look at America, where a polarized political system has destroyed the productivity of state.  A recent paper, from academics at Penn State, highlights just how bad things have become.

The authors monitored the voting record on motions or bills from 1949 through until 2012.  They were particularly looking out for the instances whereby representatives voted across party lines.

The data reveals the stark decline in so called cross party votes.  In the period from 1967-1979 there were around 10,000 instances of cross party voting, for instance.  By 2001-2010, this number had dropped to below 1,500 however.

“If you look at past data, it was uncharacteristic that one representative would be involved in even 1 percent of the total cross-party voting, because people were more likely to vote against party lines. Today, several people account for upwards of 50 percent of the total cross-party votes, and these are the people we refer to as ‘super-cooperators’ because they account for a bulk of the cross-aisle voting,” the paper says.

What’s more, in the latest Congress, just 7 of the 444 members accounted for nearly all of the cross-party voting, which underlines how partisan Congress has become.

Why this matters

This has coincided with a decline in the number of bills that make it through Congress, which is a decent reflection of the productivity of the state.

“We can’t say for sure that the decline in cooperation is the sole reason that there are fewer bills being introduced or passed by Congress, but we do know the two are statistically correlated, and both have been dropping steadily over the past 60 years,” the researchers say.

Partisanship may play well with the core voters of particular parties, but it seems that greater cross party collaboration is required if the state is to function effectively.



5 thoughts on “Are politicians willing to collaborate?

  1. A rather sad indictment, but most of them are out for themselves first of all, so their priority is getting elected. Actually working effectively is a secondary consideration.

  2. The optimist in me hopes that they squabble in public when they need people to vote for them, and are much more amicable in private, but evidence such as that which you present casts significant doubt on that, which is very worrying, especially as we're entering what seems to be a period of coalition after coalition.

  3. Politics is the art of compromise. Sadly, we no longer elect politicians. We (at least in America) elect celebrities. Name recognition trumps all. This is why incumbents are reelected in such great numbers. No matter how badly they perform, theirs are the names most voters recognize at the polls.

    If only we could get the people to elect politicians, real politicians…

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