President Truman had a desk sign “The Buck Stops Here”. He wouldn’t shy away from his responsibility or blame others when things went wrong. One aspect feeding political discontent is the perception that politicians don’t have that desk sign.
How does that work? Three elements are in play:
- Negativity Bias: individuals tend to weigh losses more heavily than gain and so, they pay more attention to them. Several studies suggest that losses are commonly weighted at between two and four times more than equivalent gains.
- The Self-Serving bias: individuals tend to ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, but ascribe failure to external factors. We simply like others to think highly of us.
- Disatisfaction leads to activity: some studie show that dissatisfied voters are more likely to turn out to vote than satisfied voters and to switch their vote among parties. This is contested. Other studies show encumbent politicians are voted out if they did a poor job, but not rewarded in same measure if they did a good job.
These three elements tend to lead to risk averse decision making. Even when elected officials have to deal with big issues, they will not try an untested scheme that may backfire, even that policy could lead to big gains for society.
The most curious effect is that dissatified voters who dislike buck-passing politicians are in fact encouraging them.