Politicians are misreading the landscape: compromise, not gridlock, will win elections.

The slide below from Washington lobbyists Mehlman Castagnetti illustrates how easy it is to misread public sentiment and incorrectly conclude that rigid partisanship is what Americans voters will reward at the polls.

To lay the groundwork, first let’s ask ourselves two quick questions. What do we think?

1) Do more Americans want their politicians to stand firm on their convictions, or to compromise when necessary?

2) Which is the largest group of voters today?

  • A) Uncompromising right-of-center,
  • B) Uncompromising left-of-center, or
  • C) Either of the former two (pick either), allied with those on either the left or right that are willing to compromise?

Hold those answers in mind as we now consider the graphics on this slide.

Mehlmen Castagnetti -- No Mood to Compromise.  bit.ly/Roaring2020s

When one first looks at it, it gives the impression that Americans don’t want compromise and therefore that the reasonable political strategy is to appeal to rigid ideological partisans. In particular, the pie chart on the right seems to reinforce that only a minority of Americans support compromise.

One can understand why the author titles the chart, “No mood to compromise,” yes?

But then let’s think beyond the surface for a moment. That 53% in the second pie that are uncompromising, aren’t they split among the Right and the Left?

….

Meaning that the partisans of either party can only, among their like-minded partisans, muster to 20-30% of the voters. Where are the remainder going to come from, to win any national candidate a plurality in a two-person race?

They have to come from those that support compromise. In all, there are nearly twice as many voters that support compromise as there are rigid partisans on each side.

So now let’s just do a relatively straightforward, hopefully rhetorical exercise. Which candidate is likely to attract the most national support in an election?

  • A) An uncompromising candidate on the Left.
  • B) An uncompromising candidate on the Right.
  • C) A candidate on either the Right or Left that is also supportive of compromise where needed?

Personally, “compromise” is not the “end” I seek to draw attention to. Compromise is simply a means to that end. The end is …

Getting important things done.

Things don’t get done, and stay done, without support sufficient enough to outlast multiple election cycles (ie: more support than the Paris Accords, Affordable Care Act and Trans Pacific Partnership received and a border wall today receives). When an electorate is split roughly in half, “sufficient” requires meaningful support from both parties.

That’s the reality of life and leadership that we need to re-embrace if we want to successfully address any of the most pressing needs facing our nation.


Thank you to Bruce Mehlman (@bpmehlman) of Mehlman Castagnetti for his thoughtful slide deck, “The Roaring 2020‘s” from which the above slide is shared. There are a lot of interesting perspectives in the deck, worth perusing.

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Divisive partisanship is preventing us from accomplishing “jack.”

Americans’ propensity to quickly leap to negative prejudgements of ideological opponents poisons our ability to interact with the teammates we need to advance our personal and national goals.

We’re going to fix that.

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Thoughts from across the aisle...

“Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts.”

— Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States