Society & Politics

Unpopular Mandate: Why Do Politicians Reverse Their Positions?

Ezra Klein

The controversy over the US’s Affordable Care Act and the varying allegiance to its policies by certain politicians has led some to ask what causes politicians to change their opinions over the value of a policy. In this New Yorker article, Ezra Klein looks at different reasons offered as to why this is the case, with a particular focus on the shift in views over “Obamacare.” 

While a sympathetic stance might suggest this is the result of policy makers becoming better informed about a decision, Klein posits that there is a lot more to the situation. After portraying the historical progression of positions held on the individual mandate aspect of the Act, Klein points to three very interesting pieces of research. The first is Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, which discusses, among other things, the evolutionary importance of coming to group conclusions. The second piece of research is that of Geoffrey Cohen who looked at whether linking policies to a party influences how voters “evaluate new policies.” Cohen found that this was very much the case. Klein also draws on a paper by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels on how different political and economic situations were remembered by those of different political allegiances, finding that one’s allegiance greatly influenced how one recollected the incident. 

What then might we make of this situation? Most importantly we need to remember that for the common good to be found, policies need to be measured on their respective merits, rather than their affiliation with one party or another alone. It is important to acknowledge that after carefully considering the details of the Affordable Care Act, different groups of Christians can justifiably come to different conclusions as to its merits (http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/06/the-health-care-ruling-andthe.html). As such, when we approach similar situations, it is incredibly helpful to reflect on research like that which Klein points to as it highlights our blind spots and enables us to recognize our negative tendencies and consciously act to rectify them.

Source: The New Yorker

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