Get used to losing elections, and learn to love the kludge

Here are two items to mull over as we wait for election returns from across America. First, researchers have discovered that people who follow politics are not happy about being on the wrong side of election results. From “The Intense Well-Being Consequences of Partisan Identity” (PDF):

… we show that partisans are affected two times more intensely by their party losing the U.S. Presidential Election than both respondents with children were to the Newtown Shootings and respondents living in Boston were to the Boston Marathon Bombings.


The study raises a lot more questions than it answers. Marginal Revolution’s Alex Taborrok, in a post titled “The Sad Losers of Politics,” has a good suggestion for the academics:

… they would have done better to compare elections with something people really care about, sports (and here). Sports and politics share the same irrational attachment to a team, the only difference being that the rivalries and hatreds of the former rarely lead to as much death and destruction as the latter

I also wonder whether there’s a difference between casual and intense followers of politics, or a difference between the young and the old. Does a loss hurt more when it’s the first time you’ve felt passionately about an election? Do you become desensitized to losses, or just more mature about them, the more campaigns you experience?

Second, Jonathan Bernstein defends America’s “kludgocracy,” or its habit of addressing problems through piecemeal add-ons to existing bureaucracy—which political scientist Steven M. Teles criticizes as “indirect and incoherent policy mechanisms” (see previous post). Bernstein argues that our fractured system, in which there is a bewildering number of ways for citizen to influence policy-making (not only through federal and local elections, but also joining lobbying groups or directly contacting government agencies), and that means “a far better chance of becoming a government ‘of ‘and ‘by’ the people than the alternative of a government of efficiently designed policy solutions.

While he admits that the ballot can be a “blunt instrument,” he concludes:

… kludgeocracy increases accountability—dramatically. Individual politicians have a real opportunity to make significant policy changes on many occasions. The very fact that there’s no one who is “in charge” is exactly what can make it hard for politicians to entirely duck a constituent’s demands. And we have plenty of evidence that politicians do respond to constitution demands, even if failure to do so probably wouldn’t show up as a significant electoral effect.

So, with a couple of caveats—don’t overreact if things don’t go your way, and don’t overestimate the changes that can happen if you’re on the winning team—have a happy and exciting Election Day.

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