A new study suggests that political gridlock — like that which led to the 2013 federal government shutdown — can largely be blamed on men, who researchers found are less likely to compromise.

“One implication is that female legislators might talk about politics and deliberately engage the other party more than their male colleagues,” said Patrick Miller, Ph.D., a University of Kansas assistant professor of political science.

“That might have some effects on the kind of legislative environment we have. Maybe if we have more women in office, you’d have more communication, less fighting, and perhaps more legislating and less gridlock.”

For the study, researchers used survey data from the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which was conducted nationwide, as well as a series of experiments conducted in 2014 involving the university’s undergraduate students.

The researchers found in both the survey and experiments that men were more likely than women to avoid cross-party political discussion, to judge political arguments based solely on what party is advancing them, and to form strong political opinions about the opposite party’s positions without actually listening to the other side’s reasoning.

“Male Democrats and Republicans more than female partisans expect interacting with the other party to be an unpleasant, conflictual, anxious, anger-filled experience,” Miller said. “As a result, they talk about politics with people in the other party less so than women.”

“Male partisans are more likely to reject information (and) to reject opinions that come from the other party without engaging that information,” Miller continued. “Just because they hear that an argument comes from the other party they think about that information less. Yet they are more likely to reject that information strongly.

“In essence, male partisans are forming strong opinions that create polarization and conflict on less information than women.”

Miller said these findings fit with psychological research known as the “male warrior argument” that focuses on men being hard-wired to fight.

“It’s not that women don’t have any of those feelings,” he said. “It’s just that they have fewer of them. We found these interesting patterns, such as being exposed to competitive elections, makes you more hesitant to discuss politics, and engage with the other side. So our elections divide us from each other as citizens, rather than encourage us to discuss important political issues.”

This is important because the act of listening to political opponents is a central tenet in the proper functioning of a democracy, the researchers noted.

Miller noted that the study’s data dealt with responses from voters instead of elected officials, which shows the importance everyday citizens play in what’s happening in politics today.

“Citizens also carry some burden for the problems that we have in politics today,” he said. “We very readily condemn all the problems we find in Washington. Yet, we as citizens don’t think very often about the role that we have in that.”

By and large, voters nominate and elect more partisan politicians, he noted.

“If we’re condemning politicians for the way they act in office, they might just be giving us what we are looking for — that partisan warrior and gridlock,” he concluded.

Miller and co-author Pamela Johnston Conover, Ph.D., a political science professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, published the study in the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities.

Source: University of Kansas